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  • Gmail has more than one billion active monthly users, who each has the option of customising its features to fit his or her individual wants, needs, and goals.
  • Tweaking your Gmail settings can help you stay organised and prevent email from becoming a time-sucking chore.
  • Here are eight ways you can customise your Gmail to optimise all of its benefits.


Many people rely on email for just about everything — whether it's to communicate with your co-workers and friends or track the shipping of an order you placed for a client.

Email became even more of a vital tool for me once I joined the ranks of remote workers and started my freelance writing business at the beginning of 2018. That shift helped me see the areas where I could lean in to making my email work harder for me, instead of the other way around.

Even though the most recent update to Gmail gave me helpful tools that didn’t require activation, like the ability to snooze emails, fully optimising the features of Gmail did take a little work.

Here are eight Gmail customisation hacks that I find to be the most useful:

1. Create an engaging signature

A good email signature can showcase your skills, help future employers access your best work, increase your LinkedIn connections, and get people to sign up for your newsletter. 

My signature includes my name and title, and links to my website, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter account.

2. Fuse your to-do list with email

I’m the type of person who usually keeps an inbox open on my laptop at all times, even though I know it blurs the line between work and life and can occasionally put a damper on productivity. So I decided to make my inbox multifunctional by installing Sortd, an extension that combines my inbox with my to-do list.

I use it to track conversations and follow ups, to hold myself accountable to daily goals, to make sure things don’t fall off my task list and, most importantly, to invoice my clients on time. This separates incoming messages in my inbox from the things I need to do in a given day.

3. Create a dummy account

I have two email accounts — the one I use daily for work, and the one I use for one-off things like creating a Craigslist ad to sell old furniture.

This keeps my work life separate from everything else and lets me sign up for newsletters or subscriptions without clogging up my regular inbox.

4. Create Google alerts

As a journalist and a generally inquisitive human being, Google Alerts are essential to staying on top of the news I cover and topics I care about.

If you’ve never used them before, you simply input keywords or phrases you want to see articles about, and Google synthesises recent articles that contain those words into an instantaneous, daily, or weekly email.

5. Track flight prices

I try visit my family as often as I can, but since I'm building up my writing business, I also need to save as much money on the flights as possible. As a freelancer, I have complete control over my work schedule, which means I'm able to wait until prices drop to book flights.

If, for example, I know I'd like to fly out sometime in November, I can set up alerts through Google flights to track flight prices so I can wait to purchase my ticket once prices fall below a certain threshold.


6. Use the vacation responder

The best way to get away from your inbox is to turn on your “out of office” message and pretend it doesn’t exist. The vacation responder is an older feature, but it’s just as important as ever.

I don’t get to use it as often as I’d like, since I don’t take time off from work more than once or twice a year. But when I do, the power of the vacation responder is absolute. That means I can actually relax when I’m not working, instead of worrying about getting back to people.

7. Use drafts wisely

I have three evergreen drafts sitting in my inbox at all times:

  1. Basic pitch outline
  2. Master invoice email
  3. Thank-you note

Obviously, each template requires customisation for the circumstances of the conversation. But when you know there are common emails that you’ll repeatedly write over the course of your career, it’s nice to have a proven place to start.

8. Set up canned responses

Whenever I get unsolicited PR emails that just aren’t of interest to me, but which appear to have been written in earnest and have clearly been customised for me (instead of the vast majority, which have appear to have no relevance to me or my work), I turn to my canned responses.

For example, a carefully worded, "Thanks for reaching out, but I’m focusing on X at the moment," email can tactfully let the sender know where I stand without burning any bridges. It also saves time while making me look professional and courteous.

For me, getting the most out of my Gmail account came down to knowing my work habits. And as someone whose workday is constantly shifting, that took a few months to figure out. But given the central role that email plays in my work, it was more than worth the effort.

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