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Squeeze More Usability out of Gmail with Preview & Labs



Gmail is a tool I use everyday. Over the past few years I have been finding tweaks and add ons to the standard Gmail experience that help me squeeze more productivity out of Gmail.

With the introduction of the preview pane, which lets you quickly read and respond to emails in the Gmail interface, I thought it was a good time to share my favorite Gmail Labs add ons and tweaks to help you work faster and smarter inside Gmail.

These add ons and tweaks are free to use and can be removed at any time if you find that you don’t like the new experience. My advice is to pick 3 to 5 labs you like and add them now. Once you get used to them, add a few more. Once you add several, you have a Gmail experience that is leaps and bounds above the already useful Gmail you signed up for.

How to Add Labs

Gmail Labs Settings

Gmail Labs

To make changes to Gmail, you will need to visit the Gmail Labs section of your account. Here you can enable a variety of extra features and functionality to enhance your Gmail experience. The process is straightforward, and can be undone at any time if you need to go back to the way you had things before you started changing Gmail settings.

  1. Sign into Gmail
  2. Click on the Settings Cog in the Upper Right
  3. Choose Labs (Or just click this link)
  4. Search for the Lab you want, or scroll through the list.
  5. Click Enable  next to the labs you want.
  6. Click Save Changes.
  7. Open Gmail and enjoy the new look and functionality.

How to Optimize Gmail Productivity

Gmail Preview Pane

Preview Pane in gmail

Gmail's Preview Pane Helps You Read and Reply Faster.

The new preview pane is an awesome add on that lets you move through your email quickly while you read and respond to messages. The new message area is really great for use on the wide screen, and I like that you can quickly toggle it on and off when you move between a big screen and a small one. Pick form a vertical or horizontal split to find the layout that works best for you. This works with most other add ons, but will break the right side chat lab which is another of my favorites.

Mark as Read Button

Mark as Read Lab GmailWhen you need to mark a collection of e-mails as read, but don’t want to click and click to get to through the More Actions section of Gmail, this button comes in handy.

When you enable this lab, it will put a Mark as read button on your title bar, which marks all the messages you have selected as read.

Undo Send

Undo Send in GmailIf you have ever hit send to early, this is going to be your favorite Gmail add on. Instead of wasting time with a followup email, hit Undo Send and you’ll have your email back to make changes and send again. You can control the amount of time you have to undo sending your email in the Gmail settings.

This lab has saved me from numerous follow-up emails and some embarrassing misspellings.

Gmail Preview Theme

Gmail Preview Theme

The new Gmail Themes, Preview and Preview Dense, give you a nicer looking Gmail interface and message control bars that float through the Gmail experience as you scroll. This means you don’t need to scroll back up to get to the actions you want to take.

To enable these, click on Settings, Mail Settings and then Themes. At the bottom of your Themes, you can choose Preview or Preview (Dense).

Google Calendar Gadget

Google Calendar GadgetIf you use Google Calendar to manage your life, this gadget is especially helpful. Instead of switching between tabs when you need to set up an appointment, glance over at the Google Calendar gadget and you’ll know what’s happening in your life for the next few days.

You can add new events, view details of upcoming events and jump to Google Calendar to edit event details.

Google Docs Gadget

Google Docs is a great place to keep your important office files for easy access from any computer. If you also use Gmail as your primary inbox, this gadget puts them even closer.

Enable this lab, and you will see your recent documents on the left side of your Gmail inbox, waiting to be opened.

Google Voice Player in Gmail

You have Google Voice right? If so, why not set up all of your voicemails for email delivery. After you do that, you’ll be able to play your Google Voice messages right within your Gmail notification message.

I also recommend the Google Voice Chrome Extension, which will notify you of voicemails and texts no matter where you are browsing.

Inserting Images

Inline images Gmail LabInstead of attaching every image you want to send to someone, try inserting one where it makes sense. Great if you are trying to add some humor or just drive home a point with a well placed chart.

These images will be inserted into your email, just like you insert images into Word or a Google Doc.

Pictures in Chat

Pictures in Chat GmailIf you use Gmail chat to keep up with co workers like I do, you’ll love this lab. Enable Pictures in Chat to put their Gmail image in chat next to their name. If your contacts don’t have an image, add one and suggest it to them.

This is handy if you have a lot of single user chats, and indispensible if you have a group chat.

Right Side Chat

Right Side chat in gmailAfter adding all those gadgets to your Gmail experience, you’ll quickly get sick of scrolling to find the gadget you want. Enter Right Side Chat. Enable this lab and your chat section will move to the right side, replacing ads, so that you can see your contacts on chat without hiding your other gadgets.

Unfortunately, this change doesn’t work out so well with the new Gmail Preview Pane, which pushes it back to the left. I’m hoping for an update soon.


Did I miss any of your favorite Gmail Labs? if you haven’t spent any time in Labs, I suggest you check it out and look for Gmail Labs which can help you get done with email faster, so you can get back to work or get out and enjoy yourself.



  1. James

    08/06/2011 at 12:08 pm

    Two that I would add to the list are “title tweeks” which rearranges the window’s title to put the label and unread count first so they’re visible in tabbed browsing, and “green robot” which changes chat icons into little androids when that person is currently on an android device.

  2. Anonymous

    08/06/2011 at 6:47 pm

    I like the addition of preview pane too, though I don’t use it all the time.
    What I find funny is that it is called a ‘preview’ pane.
    This implies there is some full view beyond that.
    But – no, there isn’t.  The messages don’t naturally expand beyond this view in any simple or meaningful way.

    It is not a ‘preview pane’ at all, but simply a ‘view pane’.

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