Use These Key-Commands To Whip Through Gmail
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Use These Key-Commands To Whip Through Gmail
Experience the zen-like flow-state of almost never touching your trackpad
Hey, all you Gmail users?
I’m about to make your lives every so slightly more delightful.
(Impatient? Just wanna see the key commands? Skip to the cheat sheet halfway down this piece.
But for those with time to kill, I have a few thoughts about typing and its cognitive fabric!)
Like most folks using Gmail, I spent years navigating around via the mouse or trackpad. To see the messages in my inbox, I’d click the inbox icon. To see stuff in the “sent” folder, I’d click send. To search for an email, I’d click on the search bar. I’d click “send” to send an email. You get the picture.
An awful lot of folks use Gmail this way, which makes sense: It’s a browser app, and most people navigate browser apps using the mouse.
Me, though? I’m a key-command nerd, to the core. I cut my teeth on computers in the 80s and early 90s, before graphical interfaces and mice existed. So everything I did involved a key command: Opening folders, saving and copying files, you name it.
Email, too! When I did my email, back in those days I logged directly into a remote mail server and used PINE, a text-only email program. No mouse was needed. “Compose”, “send”, navigating my inbox, etc., was all just a bunch of keystrokes.
In many ways, doing email with pure key-commands was wonderful. When you’re working entirely and only on the keyboard, you can get into a blissful state of flow. Typing your messages and navigating around your inbox fuses into a blur of maximally efficient movement; you get that “I know kung fu” Matrix feeling, your body becoming one with the machine.
In contrast, in the 00s when I started using mail apps that needed a mouse, that body/machine symbiosis felt broken. Why? I think it’s because reaching over for the mouse or the trackpad requires a teensy bit of proprioceptive effort — your hand briefly fumbling for the right spot. It shatters your flow, over and over again.
Still, Gmail is sufficiently convenient — it had very good security and spam management — that I’ve tolerated the hassle. (I have thus also, much more unwisely, tolerated allowing the NSA or any powerful authority to get their mitts on my centrally-located honeypot of corporate-cloud email, and to read anything that isn’t encrypted; a form of laziness on my part that I should address in another blog post, ahem.)
Anyway, the point is: I didn’t like using a mouse or trackpad for email. But I got used to it.
Then around 2012, I realized, whoa:
The nerds at Google had actually put keyboard shortcuts into Gmail!
They’d actually done it in 2007. I just hadn’t noticed. Winner.
The upshot is, if you turn on those Gmail key-commands, you can zip around nearly the same way I did back in the 90s. That lovely nirvana of flow? It came back! For the last decade, I’ve been using key-commands exclusively in Gmail, and feeling the same old l337 [email protected] vibe.
If you use Gmail, and you’re not using key-commands right now? You reallyshould give it a try. It noticeably accelerates your email flow. Given that most office workers spend as much as 28% of their work days on email, even a small boost feels lovely.
Here’s how you do it. (These instructions are for using key-commands on a laptop/desktop, by the way.)
1) Turn on keyboard shortcuts in your settings
Go to your settings: When you’re in Gmail, click on the little gear-shaped icon in the top right corner. A pop-up will pop up; pick “See all settings”.
That’ll open a bigger page of settings, and towards the bottom of the page you’ll see the option “Keyboard shortcuts on”. Pick that one, like so …
2) Experiment with key commands to see which ones you enjoy
There’s a full list of key commands here at Google’s Gmail site! You can check ’em out — there are dozens.
Personally, I only use a small handful.
The ones that are most useful to me are …
- “j”: when you’re in your inbox (or “sent” folder, or any folder), it moves you down to the next email. If you’re inside a message, reading it? It’ll also move you to the next message
- “k”: the opposite — it moves you up one email
- “enter”: it opens a email so you can read it or reply to it
- “u”: it closes an email and takes you back to the list of messages
- “x”: when you’re in your inbox (or any folder), it selects that message in the little tick-box. Hit it again to unselect that message
- “#”: deletes any messages you have selected
- “!”: marks as spam any message you have selected
- “g + i”: goes to your inbox
- “g + t”: goes to your sent mail
- “g + d”: goes to your drafts
- “r”: when you’re reading an email, it starts a reply
- “a”: when you’re reading an email, it starts a reply-to-all
- “f”: when you’re reading an email, it creates a forward of that message
- “c”: when you’re in the inbox (or any folder), it creates an empty new message.
- “ctrl/⌘ + enter”: sends a message
That’s it. I only use those 15 keyboard shortcuts.
But damn, they add a really nice zip to my daily, Sisyphean task of sifting through endless messaging. Possibly the most satisfying speed-up is when first I sit down to do email in the morning and chuck out useless messages: I whip up and down my inbox using the “j” and “k”, using “x” select everything I want to delete (“#”) or mark as spam (“!”). Delete delete spam delete delete spam delete DELETE. My god it’s nice.
There are probably things you routinely do in Gmail that I don’t. I do not use labels or have special folders for autosorting incoming messages, for example. But go check out that full list of Gmail commands; odds are high whatever you action you repeatedly do, they’ve got a key-command for it. (If not, you can customize your own.)
If you’re the type of nerd who’s already been using Gmail’s key commands since 2007, be proud. Everyone else? Come experience the zen-like nirvana of having your fingers become one with the keyboard.
(Hey: Ifffffffff you found this post useful? Hit that “clap” button again and again and again, people! You can do it 50 times!)
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