My ultimate guide to getting started with Gmail


Now, the day after this was published, Gmail went and changed the way you use Gmail. It has taken me a while, but I think I quite like the new Categories feature in Gmail. Thankfully, Lifehacker has a great post – Everything you need to know about Gmail’s new super-confusing layout. Quite aptly titled. Go there first to try and get a handle on Categories before you delve into Labels.


There are a few settings that I always set in Gmail:

  • Language
  • Phone Numbers
  • Browser connection: Always use HTTPS
  • Conversation View: On
  • Desktop Notifications: On
  • Keyboard shortcuts: On
  • My picture
  • People Widget: Show
  • Create contacts for auto-complete
  • Personal level indicators
  • Snippets
  • Set your signature. Plus always check “Insert this signature before quoted text in replies and remove the “–” line that precedes it.”


Searching in Gmail is very powerful. Yes, you can do similar searching as you did in Outlook (click on the drop down arrow at the right of the search bar), but you can do all of that so much quicker just by typing into the search bar.

See this video showing all the main features of gmail search and the full syntax of what can be searched.

Also, turn on the Quick Links Lab to enable saving of your favourite searches and add them to the left hand panel.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Whilst you are using the keyboard do to do searching, learn another few tricks to improve your productivity using keyboard shortcuts  in Gmail. Have a look at this video showing keyboard shortcuts, including a tip on setting up custom keyboard shortcuts. The full list of shortcuts is visible by shift+? and see the help document for more information.


The new compose window has been causing a few people a bit of concern, as it is quite different than the previous compose window. I don’t mind it (except on mac when browser windows just disappear on you). Once again there is a video showing the new compose and a handy cheat sheet on how to use the formatting features and keyboard shortcuts.

Labels and Filters

Labels are the most powerful feature of Gmail – forget folders, labels allow you to have one email in two “folders”! This quick video provides and introduction to labels and the help page on labels is useful too. But adding labels to emails manually is a bit tedious, so why not let Gmail do the work for you. This is the power of filters. The help page for filters is pretty basic. This Mashable article is a pretty good overview of a few of the Gmail filtering features (though why they make that comment about folders, I just don’t know), and this Lifehacker article shows 10 examples of filters that they recommend.  Oh, and you want a video? – well here is a cute little video showing filters.

I use an @ symbol before my important label names to make them appear at the top of my labels list – eg my @ToDo label. When you have set up all your labels, go to the Labels settings page to show which labels appear in your left hand panel. Stars are also handy and can help you highlight important messages within labels.

The wonderful thing about labels and filters that they work exactly the same way in your Gmail app in your iDevice or Android phone (note, I am not referring to the standard mail apps that come on your phone – download the Gmail app).

NOTE: Before you start getting too enthused about creating Labels, work out how Categories and the tabbed inbox works for you. Setting rules up for emails to skip the inbox, and add a Label may be confusing with the new layout.

Sending on Behalf and Forwarding

So, you are now convinced that Gmail is waaay better than that clunky old Outlook 2003 you have been using for years… so take it to the next level and use it for ALL your email addresses – yes, I know you have that hidden hotmail address and probably one that came with your ISP. I have lost count of how many emails I have, but they are all available for use from my Gmail.

This can be a bit tricky to set up but once it is set up it is great. When composing an email you can choose which email address to send it from, and you can either forward email from another email account to Gmail, or let Gmail get email from your POP email (eg your ISP email is usually POP enabled).

One trick for success. After you have done the verification steps for forwarding, go back into that account and check that the forwarding is enabled – it seems to disable after you verify that you want it to be forwarded.


Now that everything is set up, you would not want to loose it. So go to your Google Accounts settings and set up 2 Factor Authentication, including setting up the Google Authenticator on your phone, and while you are there set up the Inactive Account Manager.

Bonus – CRM

If you want lightweight customer relationship management features in Gmail, then try a few of the add-ons listed in this video. The list of add-ons that are mentioned in that video are:

Plus I would add:

  • Rapportive and
  • maybe Boomerang Calendar, however I could not get it to work with non-US timezones.
  • and ToutApp (which is an interesting app, but I’m not sure I have a need for it).

Now just remember, that this is not a full CRM system, and these add-ins to Gmail are not available on your mobile device. So, I would still recommend paying for a proper CRM system.

Double Bonus – the + Sign

This trick is my favourite gmail trick of all time. Need an extra email address? Not sure if those people are going to pass your email address on? Use your regular email address but with a + and a few letters after the name (eg for me it would be This way you could create a unique email address for everywhere you add your email address. For double bonus points you can then filter on messages that come TO: that specific address to deal with them as they arrive in your inbox.

Email addresses with the + sign are not able to be used in some places, but it is better than nothing.

If you have a Google Apps account, you can set up aliases for your main email also. Eg if you are you could set up or See the help page on how to add nicknames.


You may want to set up Gmail for offline use, use Google Hangouts in Gmail, start using Google+, set up your Google public profile, set up Google Authorship on your blog posts.  And that should be enough for now.

Oops, notice I didn’t mention themes? No themes for me – I want the clean lines of Gmail only, plus I want it to be the same look and feel as the Gmail apps on my mobile devices.


  1. says

    This is grand, thanks Jodie. Needs one of you brainy types to explain this clearly, which you’ve done very well!

    I’m your classic Gmail user who’s not aware of half of the features and probably uses about 5% of its capabilities. I am keeping this aside to study further and may have more qus!!