Monday, August 27, 2012

From 60 to 0 with Gmail Shortcuts

Welcome to Monday. This is what my inbox looked liked when I got in... the message list continues outside of the screen capture, but you get the idea:

Monday morning inbox of horrors.

If you are like me and crave the fabled inbox zero, then seek no more -- I can help you reduce and keep your Gmail inbox at a manageable level or zero if you prefer. All you have to do is invest a little time reading this article and try a couple practice keyboard shortcut sessions. Once the shortcuts are second nature you will be able to reduce your inbox message conversations from 60 to 0 in a matter of minutes. This is where I got in 10 minutes time:

Ahh, bliss - a clean inbox.

Before we start let's see why this strategy works:

Keyboard shortcuts save time. Exponentially.
Trust me... Really!

Usually the pain about learning keyboard shortcuts is that there are too many to take in all at once. This article shows you the exact keyboard shortcuts you need to learn for to efficiently reduce messages in your inbox. (If you don't know why you might want to have fewer messages in your inbox read David Allen's Getting Things Done book for starters.)

1. The first thing you'll want to setup is a Google Labs feature called Auto-advance found in your Gmail settings -> Labs. 

FYI: The image below shows the information relevant to this article in green, although I've also highlighted some areas in pink with settings/features I also find useful that happened to be in the same screenshot.

Auto-advance Labs Feature

Next, configure turn on Gmail keyboard shortcuts and configure the Auto-advance feature you installed in step 1.

Add some bling to your Settings.

Great now that your Gmail is setup, here are the keyboard shortcuts that you need for this task. Again focus on the green, which are relevant to this task, although I've also highlighted other frequently used shortcuts in pink. You might learn those once you are comfortable with the green commands.
Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts Help Menu (press '?' to see this)

Here's the list of the green items which are relevant for the clean-up task in text form along with a brief description of what each command does:
u -- Return to conversation list -- Refreshes your page and returns you to the inbox, or list of conversations.
k -- Move to newer conversation -- Opens or moves your cursor to a more recent conversation. You can hit to expand a conversation.
j -- Move to older conversation -- Opens or moves your cursor to the next oldest conversation. You can hit to expand a conversation.
o or <Enter> -- Open -- Opens your conversation. Also expands or collapses a message if you are in 'Conversation View.'
p -- Previous message -- Moves your cursor to the previous message. You can hit to expand or collapse a message. (Only applicable in 'Conversation View.')
n -- Next message -- Moves your cursor to the next message. You can hit to expand or collapse a message. (Only applicable in 'Conversation View.')
v -- Move to -- Moves the conversation from the inbox to a different label, Spam or Trash.
s -- Star a message or conversation -- Adds or removes a star to a message or conversation. Stars allow you to give a message or conversation a special status.
# -- Delete -- Moves the conversation to Trash.
r -- Reply -- Replies to the message sender. + r allows you to reply to a message in a new window. (Only applicable in 'Conversation View.')
a -- Reply all -- Replies to all message recipients. +a allows you to reply to all message recipients in a new window. (Only applicable in 'Conversation View.')
f -- forward -- Forwards a message. + f allows you to forward a message in a new window. (Only applicable in 'Conversation View.')
Tab then <Enter> -- Send message -- Combo key: After composing your message, use this combination to send it automatically.
z   -- Undo -- Undoes your previous action, if possible (works for actions with an 'undo' link).
Some of the shortcuts are intuitive and some will require getting used to. (The navigation key choices stem from Vi, so sysadmins rejoice!)

The clean-up process

  1. From inbox view, jump into a message using <Enter>. 
  2. Once on a message decide if I want to delete (#), move (v), reply/reply all/forward (r/a/f), or mark with a star (s - pushing repeatedly cycles through the star icons).

    GTD TIP: If the item is actionable I may decide to forward to Evernote if it is something I want to look at later, like an article, image or attachment or to ToodleDo if the message is really a task that I need to get done. Repeat with me: My inbox is not my task list, my inbox is not my task list, my inbox is not my task list!!!

    To make it easy to do these forwards add your Evernote and ToodleDo email accounts to your Gmail contacts so they appear in the To: pop-up when you need to send a message to a 3rd party service. Then use the tab+enter combo shortcut to send your message, sans mouse.

  3. Rinse and repeat.

You may have noticed the clean-up process only uses a subset of the keyboard shortcuts I highlighted in green as relevant to the task. This is because you really only need those other keys (ukjpn and z) to navigate comfortably while you are cleaning house. These navigation keys are definitely worth learning right away and will liberate your mouse hand.

If you decide to try this out please leave a comment to let me know how it goes. The only thing I can say about learning this technique for myself is: Why didn't I learn these shortcuts sooner!?


  1. Thanks for the info - I've already started using the basic shortcuts...keeping a zero unread inbox is something that has been tried a few times but in more of a "spring cleaning" manner.

    Combining this with Evernote on my phone is looking like a good combo.

  2. Personally I'm pretty much constantly at inbox zero, but that's probably because the hotmail login page is pretty much my homepage and I'm on there constantly, so I suppose it doesn't really count. If I didn't check my email so often, it'd be a lot more to keep up with.

  3. I do have a Gmail account, but I normally use a Hotmail account to check my emails. I recently completed a Hotmail sign up process. But, I guess it doesn't really count.

  4. Hello friend, i already used the Gmail Account Shortcuts but now i am trying to login Hotmail Account and access the Inbox features by using shortcuts but i have problem with shortcuts. So, could you please help me to provide some shortcuts for Hotmail.

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  6. We can change some settings in almost any mailbox. This will help to optimize the system for receiving and sending the emails.

  7. First of all, I wanted to to thank you for sharing all these details. In general, I liked that idea of setting gmail shortcuts.

  8. Gmail shortcuts are needed. It will be good for me to know more about it.

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