These 4 Gmail speed boosters let you fly through your inbox

By JR Raphael

October 22, 2021

In the life of a Very Busy Person, every saved second can seem like an eternity.

It may sound silly, but if you find yourself running out of minutes in the day as often as I do, you probably know what I mean. Shaving seconds off time-consuming tasks can stack up fast, and there are few places more ripe for such step-slashing sorcery than your dusty old Gmail inbox.

And here’s a little secret: With a handful of smart adjustments to your emailing habits, you can reclaim not only seconds but entire minutes of your day that are typically devoted to mind-numbing, meaningless email-oriented tasks. And you don’t even need a $30-a-month add-on to do it.

Follow this guide to streamlining standard Gmail processes, and get ready to marvel at how quickly all of those saved seconds add up.

Gmail speed booster #1: Basic keyboard shortcuts

The first and most effective Gmail efficiency enhancer is without a doubt a wholehearted embracing of keyboard shortcuts. That’s one of the key components of Superhuman, in fact—the aforementioned $30-a-month add-on that some tech power players swear by.

The truth, though, is that the same sort of superpower can just as easily be achieved without that supersized price tag. It’s mostly just a matter of reminding yourself about some choice out-of-sight commands, and then training yourself to rely on them.

And you know what? Gmail’s own keyboard shortcut system is absolutely packed with potential. When you’re composing a message, for instance—be it a new email or a reply to an existing thread:

    Ctrl-Shift-C (or Cmd-Shift-C on a Mac, for this and all subsequent Ctrl commands) will reveal the hidden-by-default cc field and place your cursor within it so you can simply start typing.

    Ctrl-Shift-B will do the same thing with the bcc field.

    Ctrl-Shift-D will discard your current email draft, while Ctrl-Enter will send it.

    Ctrl-Shift-7 will start a numbered list, while Ctrl-Shift-8 will give you a bulleted list.

    Ctrl-Shift-9 will apply blockquote formatting to your text, Ctrl-] will simply indent your text without any quote-specific styling, and Ctrl-[ will move your text back in the other direction.

From your inbox or any other message list, meanwhile:

    The arrow-up and arrow-down keys will move your cursor’s focus to different individual emails.

    Enter or O will open the currently focused email. X will select it. And after either of those actions, E will archive an email, # will delete it, and B (for some reason) will snooze it.

    GI will always take you back to your main inbox view.

    GT will zip you over to your sent messages.

    GD will open up your drafts.

    ` will move you to the next section, if you’re looking at the Gmail tabbed inbox, while ~ will take you back to the previous section within your current view.

And while viewing any individual message thread:

    ; will expand all of the replies within the thread, provided more than one message exists. : will collapse them all back down.

    P will highlight the previous message within the thread, while N will highlight the next reply relative to your current reading point. Enter or O will toggle the currently selected reply between its open and collapsed state.

    } will archive the current thread and take you directly to the next (newer) message in the list, while { will archive and take you to the previous (older) email.

    R will open a new reply in the standard inline reply window. Shift-R will open a reply in an entirely new browser window.

    A will do the same thing with a reply-all. Shift-A will start your reply-all in a new browser window.

    F will forward the email, while Shift-F will forward it and open the new message in a separate window.

    L will open the Label menu, after which you can simply start typing the name of any label and then hit Enter once you see it appear to apply it.

    And V will open the Move To menu, which works the same as the Label menu except it archives an email and removes it from your inbox at the same time as applying whatever label you choose.

Finally, from any message list within the Gmail website:

    C will open the standard compose tool for writing a new message.

    Shift-C will let you compose a new message in a pop-up window.

    And D will start your blank email in a totally separate tab.

Now, actually getting yourself in the habit of using these shortcuts is a whole other challenge. The trick, I’ve found, is to focus on one or two new shortcuts at a time and really internalize them. Once you’ve started relying on them without any thought or effort, move on to another one or two shortcuts and focus entirely on those. Otherwise, you’re bound to overwhelm your brain and never get into the groove of using them.

And note that before any of these built-in Gmail shortcuts will work, you’ll need to enable the off-by-default “Keyboard shortcuts” setting within the Gmail desktop website, if you haven’t already. To find that, click the gear-shaped settings icon in the site’s upper-right corner, click “See all settings,” then scroll down until you see the line labeled “Keyboard shortcuts.” Shift its setting into the on position and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen to click the Save Changes button when you’re done.

Gmail speed booster #2: Custom keyboard shortcuts

Gmail’s built-in shortcuts are sublime, but you don’t have to stop there.


First, Gmail has a tucked-away option that’ll let you customize your own native keyboard shortcuts and make them even more well-suited to your specific needs and preferences. To find it:

    Go back into the Gmail website’s settings and click the “Advanced” tab at the top of the screen.

    Click on “Enable” next to “Custom keyboard shortcuts” and then click the “Save Changes” button at the bottom of the screen.

    When Gmail reloads, go back into its settings once more and look for the newly added “Keyboard Shortcuts” tab at the top of the screen.

And would you look at that? You’ve just given yourself a complete list of Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts and the opportunity to change or expand what specific key sequences activate them.

These 4 Gmail speed boosters let you fly through your inbox |
Gmail’s “Custom keyboard shortcuts” option opens up all sorts of interesting speed boosting possibilities.

A few changes I like to make in this area include adding in ESC for the “Back to threadlist” shortcut and adding in I for the “Go to Inbox” shortcut—both of which simplify the associated commands and make them faster and more intuitive to activate—and then adding in $ for the “Snooze” command, just because that’s much more sensible and easy to remember than the random-seeming B default Google for some reason selected for that.

Don’t run off yet, though. That’s still just the beginning of our Gmail recalibration journey.

Gmail speed booster #3: Smart shortcut supplements

Gmail’s got plenty of exceptional add-ons that connect your inbox to external services and cut out back-and-forth tab flipping. Here, I want to focus on one specific supplement that adds valuable time-saving shortcuts directly into the Gmail interface.

It’s called Simplify, and it’s the passion project of a former Gmail design lead and the guy who created Google’s short-lived but much beloved Inbox email client.

These 4 Gmail speed boosters let you fly through your inbox |
An inbox with Simplify’s visual enhancements in place—a world of difference from the default.

Simplify brings lots of wonderful enhancements to the Gmail website and reimagines the entire interface into something cleaner, simpler, and easier to use than what Google gives you by default. But specific to our conversation today, it also gives you a bunch of clever new keyboard shortcuts that make getting around Gmail meaningfully faster.

For instance, with the Simplify extension installed:

    The combination of Shift and the arrow-up or arrow-down key lets you select multiple messages in any list view so you can easily archive, delete, refile, or do anything else to numerous emails at the same time.

    Ctrl-A selects all messages on the current screen, while Ctrl-Shift-A selects all messages within the current category or label—even those that extend onto multiple pages.

    The Enter key gains extra powers: When you highlight a message and then press Enter, the message opens, just like usual, but from there, every additional press of Enter drills you in deeper—first focusing on the most recent reply in the thread and then opening a new reply.

    The Esc key works in the opposite way and acts as a drill out function to back out of a message one step at a time.

    The spacebar selects any highlighted message in a list, rather sensibly, while the Del key deletes it (imagine that!).

That’s all just scratching the surface of how Simplify can improve your inbox and increase your email efficiency. The program costs a mere two bucks a month, paid annually, and that single payment allows you to use the extension with up to ten different Gmail addresses, in case you have multiple accounts.

Gmail speed booster #4: Smart settings adjustments

Last but not least in our Gmail speed boosting collection are a few fast changes to out-of-the-way Gmail settings. These can make a world of difference in your email experience and the speed at which you make it through messages.


    If you find yourself going through emails in order, one after the next, head into Gmail’s settings, click the “Advanced” tab, and click “Enable” on the line for “Auto-advance.” Click the Save Changes button at the bottom, and from that point forward, you’ll automatically move to the next message in your list anytime you archive, delete, or mute a thread. (And if you’d rather move to the previous message instead, you’ll find an option for that in the “General” tab of Gmail’s settings after you’ve made the initial change.)

    If you like to stay organized and archive emails after you deal with them—something I’d strongly recommend doing—look in the “General” tab of Gmail’s settings for the “Send and Archive” option. Click the line to “Show ‘Send & Archive’ button in reply,” hit the Save Changes button at the bottom of the screen, and you’ll then find yourself with a step-saving button that’ll both send a reply and archive the associated thread in one fell swoop. (And a bonus tip: Once that button is in place, hitting Ctrl-Enter while composing a reply will activate it without any clicking or seconds-wasting.)

    And no matter how you process your email, save yourself from needless clicking by marching into Gmail’s settings and changing the value for the “Maximum page size” option on the main screen from the default “50” to the maximum “100.” That’ll literally cut the number of times you have to click to view more emails in half—a no-brainer!
These 4 Gmail speed boosters let you fly through your inbox |
Gmail’s Send & Archive button can cut your reply-sending steps in half.

Implement all of these speed boosters and get yourself in the habit of taking advantage of what they can accomplish, and before you know it, being a Very Busy Person might be just a little less overwhelming than it used to be.

Hungry for even more tasty time-savers? Check out my free Android Shortcut Supercourse to learn tons of useful ways to make your smartphone smarter.