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gmail efficiency tipsIn a recent poll we held here at MakeUseOf, we found that over 75% of you already use Gmail’s new compose. By reading that poll’s comments, I’ve also gathered that while many of you are using the new compose, there are things many of you find annoying. The most common complaint, and one which I agree with wholeheartedly, is the increased amount of clicking, hovering and clicking this new interface requires.

Do you want to change your text formatting? There’s now an additional click involved. Want to CC or BCC someone on an email? Here are those extra clicks again. Want to include a link? Hover, expand, click. It does get pretty tiresome. On the flip side, Gmail’s new compose really is clutter-free and very nice to look at, and this is partly due to how Google has nicely hidden all these extra buttons from view.

So can you use Gmail’s new compose and still not waste all those valuable clicks and minutes? The answer is yes, sometimes, and depends.

New Compose? What?

In case you’ve missed it, or still haven’t got around to using it, Gmail’s new compose brings new emails to a separate Windows, enabling easy multitasking, and making things look better in general. To find out more about it, you can read Justin’s quick review of all its new abilities.

Just so we’re all on the same page, this is what it looks like. You can clearly see that accessing many of the readily available options from the old interface now require extra work.

gmail efficiency tips


New & Exciting Keyboard Shortcuts

The people behind the new compose experience are not complete idiots. They must have known that hiding many buttons from view will make them harder to reach, adding all those extra clicks into the mix. For that reason, they’ve decided to include several new keyboard shortcuts that were introduced with the new compose feature.

Unfortunately, those shortcuts were not emphasized enough, and while they do appear on the interface itself, I managed to completely miss them for the first few weeks I was using it.

I won’t keep you waiting, here is a list of very useful shortcuts that will save you considerable time while working with the new compose:

  • Ctrl+Shift+C –> Add a CC recipient to your email.
  • Ctrl+Shift+B –> Add a BCC recipient to your email.
  • Ctrl+Shift+T –> Edit the To: field.
  • Ctrl+Shift+7 –> Start a numbered list in your email.
  • Ctrl+Shift+8 –> Start a bullet-point list in your email.
  • Ctrl+K –> Insert a hyperlink in your email.

gmail efficiency

If you really hate using your mouse for extra clicks, you can make use of one of the top three shortcuts to open the top compose panel, where you can also change the sender address for this email. This still requires you to use your mouse, but at least you’ve saved the extra click. I find that being able to insert links and lists without having to click or hover over the bottom panels is a godsend, and I only wish I’d known about it before.

Of course, you can still use the usual Ctrl+B for bold, Ctrl+I for italics and Ctrl+U for underline, which means that most of the formatting options can now be accessed with your keyboard. That’s most, and not all, and if you were used to easily changing fonts and font sizes, for example, you’re in for some extra work. But there’s a way around that too:

Lab: Default Text Styling

gmail efficiency

While it can’t and won’t solve all of your problems, Default Text Styling is a great lab to enable if you’re regularly using a different font, font size or font color than usual. This is not a new lab, but if you’ve relied on the ease with which you could switch fonts, you might want to give it a try now.

To enable it, go to Settings –> Labs and search for “Default Text Styling”. Choose to enable it, and click “Save changes” at the bottom. Now, access Settings again, and under the General tab, you’ll find a new option.

gmail efficiency tips

From here, you can choose a default font, font size and font color for all your email conversations. If you like bigger fonts, for example, setting the font to Large from here will save you the need to click away at the formatting panel to increase its size every time.

It still doesn’t solve all the formatting problems, as it’s limited to only these three features, but it’s a great start.


Before writing this post, I set out to make my new compose experience better. My first and foremost wish was to find a way to switch to right-to-left writing without that extra click. In that mission, I failed. There is not keyboard shortcut, no lab and no add-on that can do that, as far as I could see. But in my quest, I found some awesome shortcuts and tricks I will definitely be using, and with luck, more will be added as the new compose feature settles in.

Do you know of other cool shortcuts that can help with Gmail’s new compose? Have you found a great hack that solves this problem? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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  1. Ganesh Mobu
    December 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    it wil tk tym ft ppl to adapt these features...

  2. Tom Cruz
    December 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Great tips. Thank you so much.

  3. Debbie Franklin
    December 24, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Thanks, I always enjoy reading this stuff.

  4. DopePriest
    December 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    hey Yaara. I was also looking for a quicker way to change to right-to-left writing direction.
    I found out that if you simply start typing in an RTL language (eg Hebrew), after a few strokes it will automatically change the direction - this is great as you don't even need to click once! :)

    • Yaara Lancet
      December 23, 2012 at 6:43 am

      I was really excited reading this, but then I tried it out and it didn't work. :( I wrote whole sentences and it didn't change to RTL at any point.

      What kills me is that even right Ctrl+Shift doesn't work, the only way to change it to RTL is to access that menu, and it's really cumbersome.

      Maybe you're using the Hebrew interface, and that's why it does that for you?

      • DopePriest
        December 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm

        I am using the the english (US) interface, and not the hebrew one.
        however, I'm on a mac (mountain lion) and it's working on both chrome and safari.
        it's also instant - by the third keystroke it changes to RTL.
        give it a try on a mac, if you can.

        It seems weird that it will be an OS X feature though, as I don't get this behaviour in other apps.

        • Yaara Lancet
          December 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm

          Tried it on Chrome as well, but no luck. It does seem unlikely that it would be an OS X feature, but it seems to be the major difference. Thanks anyway!

  5. Walter Gilbert
    December 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Another tip to include in my list of to try.
    Thank you

  6. Najmur Rahman
    December 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks very much for sharing these shortcuts!

  7. Mac Witty
    December 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Good! Shortcuts are now on my wallpaper

  8. Douglas Mutay
    December 19, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Good! I have just print these shortcuts and pinned where I can easily see and use it!

  9. Sravan Kumar
    December 19, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Thanks for telling these shortcuts.
    Even with more clicks, I like the new interface. And it feels good while composing/typing the email.

  10. AriesWarlock
    December 19, 2012 at 6:48 am

    I would really prefer an option so that labels that have unread messages move up. Instead you have "show if unread", but after reading all messages the label disappears. It's so troublesome to get it to show back again. I hope they implement some more common sense features.

  11. Robert Backlund
    December 19, 2012 at 4:50 am

    I quite frankly hate all of the latest so called improvements that Google has forced on us all. They for the most part have abandoned all function in favor of form only. I am an older American and I come from an old school of thinking, "IF IT AIN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT" Perhaps I am wrong and out of step with the majority but for me the use of a computer should enhance, improve and above all else make our lives easier. Well the trend among many of the developers of late is moving in the opposite direction all for the sake of simply making something new. Perhaps they do it to continue justifying their job, I suppose if they did not keep changing stuff all the time there would be fewer of them employed. Ever since Google changed the interface about a year ago I stuck with the old until it was no longer possible and now that they are forcing this new and so called compose on me makes me dislike it even more. My solution would be if Gmail were not so ingrained in what I do everyday my solution would be to simply close my Gmail account permanently, I almost did not buy a new Android phone because I dislike a lot of what Google has been doing the past couple of years but there really is no viable alternative at least for the time being so here is my personal solution for all the new issues I have with Gmail. I simply do not use it via a web browser, I instead have the Thunderbird email client configured to fetch my mail to my desktop off of their IMAP servers and yes it is still free. The advantages, a consistent usable interface, and no more in your face ads down the R/H side of the Gmail window. So I let Gmail collect all of my emails for me and send them to my desktop or my cell phone thus by passing their new and improved UI.

    • Scott
      December 20, 2012 at 12:07 am

      Sounds like you should demand your money back from Google! I mean, why should you be paying your hard-earned $0 for Gmail if you hate it so much?

    • Yaara Lancet
      December 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

      I understand where you're coming from, but this is the way the Web works today. It's not only Google. Gmail worked from the first moment it launched. It was better than anything that existed up to that moment, and it took the world by storm. When we think about it today, the Gmail of 2004 was not nearly as useful as it is today. So why did it have such success? Because Microsoft were thinking "if it's not broken, don't fix it", which left Hotmail a very stale product, and made it very easy for Google to steal users.

      The last thing Google wants is to let Gmail go stale and have some new shiny service steal all their users. If they don't keep innovating, you can be sure it'll happen sooner than later.

      I think your solution is great. If you don't like the interface, using a client is a good choice.

      • Robert Backlund
        December 20, 2012 at 11:53 am

        I am sorry if I made everyone feel that I hate Gmail, nothing could be farther from the truth, it has become a very useful part of my life and it would be very difficult to move to something completely different because the Google infrastructure is so much a part of the Android ecosystem. However what I do hate are the constant changes, when I started using Gmail a couple of years ago I liked everything about it especially their UI. I unfortunately am on a medical retirement and one of my problems is a real issue with my short term memory and I have an extremely difficult time learning new things. It takes me much repetition doing something before I can lock it down into long term memory so when Google or anyone radically changes their UI it cause their product or service to become almost unusable for me for quite sometime. That is why I found it much easier to just use the Thunderbird email client, it is much more predictable with respect to their UI and the changes that have occurred have been incremental instead of a completely radical change that occurs overnight.

        • Yaara Lancet
          December 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm

          Thanks for explaining that, Robert, and I can definitely see how the frequent changes can be hard. As I said above, I think using a client is a great solution in this case.

          Also, most Gmail changes are not mandatory at first, so you can toggle them on and off until you get completely used to them. Not sure if that's really helpful, but it's possible.

  12. Anonymous
    December 19, 2012 at 4:02 am

    This is amazing! Google never ceases to amaze. Thanks for sharing the goodness! Already switched over to the new compose.

  13. john schmitt
    December 19, 2012 at 3:11 am

    Too bad there isn't a better shortcut for the SEND function, other then TAB ENTER :-(

  14. John Smith
    December 19, 2012 at 3:04 am

    great article , thanks :)

  15. Neal
    December 18, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Great tips! I did notice that the Ctrl+Shift+T didn't seem to work. For me it would not open up in the To: field, instead it opened up a new tab.

    • Yaara Lancet
      December 20, 2012 at 10:53 am

      Ctrl+Shift+T does open a new tab, but it works differently when I'm composing an email on Gmail. Which browser are you using?

      • Neal
        December 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm

        I'm using Chrome.

  16. Muhammad Rizwan
    December 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    informative article....thanks Yaara