Put a finer point on your Gmail searches

Apply operators to find the messages you're looking for faster; plus, lighten your workload by using keyboard shortcuts.

The first application I open and the last one I close each workday is Gmail.

Even though I use the service's labels and filters to sort my mail, I often found myself scrolling through the 600-plus messages in my Gmail in-box to find the one I need.

Then I discovered Gmail's search operators, and my scrolling days were over.

For instance, when I need to find the message from Ellen with the agenda attached, I type from:ellen filename:doc. If I need to find the message I sent my brother Larry about the NCAA basketball tournament pool we entered, I type to:larry subject:ncaa. And to locate the e-mail from one of my editors (for whom I've created a label) about my blog posts for the last two months, I enter label:editor (february OR march).

You'll find some of these same search parameters when you click "Show search options" to the right of the Gmail search box, but operators are faster, plus they give you more flexibility. For example, you can use the date range drop-down menu in the Search options box, or just enter after:2008/04/04 before:2008/04/07 to search mail that arrived last weekend.

Gmail's Search options dialog box
Gmail's Search options box provides options for narrowing your e-mail searches, but they're not as fast as using the service's search operators. Google

Get your Gmail work done faster via keyboard shortcuts
I'm a keyboard shortcut fan from way back, so it's embarrassing to admit that I didn't realize I could use the time-saving wonders in Gmail until I had been using the service for more than a year. To activate the shortcuts, click Settings and select "Keyboard shortcuts on" under the General tab.

Now when you want to compose a new message, type C, or Shift-C to open a blank message in a new window. Type a slash (/) to put the cursor in the search field, # to move the selected message to the Trash folder, ! to report it as spam, K to select the previous message in your in-box, and J to move to the next one.

When you're in "Conversation" mode, type R to reply to the selected message (Shift-R opens a new window for the reply), A to reply to all, and F to forward the message. Remembering these options can be a challenge, so type ? to view a list of keyboard shortcut options (and Esc to close the list).

Tomorrow: Get more out of Mozilla Thunderbird's search options.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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