No matter who you are or what you do, there are some phrases that you just end up saying over and over again in emails. Like, “Please review the attached and get back to me” or “Thank you for your submission, I’ll review it and respond within 3 days” or “i h8 u ur writing sux.” Well there's a better, lazier way to do it.
You can use Gmail to save and insert phrases of any length into any email you want. Better yet, you can set up a filter to have Gmail automatically send these canned responses for you. This works especially well with plus-addressing. If you set up a filter to auto-reply to anything sent to me+submission@gmail, the email gets sent from me+canned.response@gmail. That means if they reply to you, they’ll be sending their reply to me+canned.response@gmail and not me+submission@gmail, which prevents them from then getting a second automated email from you. It’s the perfect way to create your own virtual secretary.
Odds are if you’ve been using Gmail for long enough you’ve probably stumbled onto Labs, Gmail’s workshop for new features. To start setting up your virtual secretary, first enable Canned Responses in Labs.
To set up a canned response, start by composing a new email. Write whatever you want your saved message to be in the body of the email, formatting it however you like. Once you have your response set up, click the Canned Response button to add a new one.
With filters, plus-addressing, and canned responses, we’re halfway towards a sentient inbox. And that's just the beginning of what Labs allows you to do.
Email Unto Others As You Would Have Them Email Unto You
Undo Send: The #1 must-have Gmail Labs feature. The undo feature holds off on sending the email for a few seconds so that you can scan your email in all its uneditable glory and retract it if (when) you notice typos.
Signature Tweaks: Do you hate long email conversations where signatures pile up at the bottom of the chain like so much digital flotsam? Do your part to clean up the clutter by moving your signature up where it belongs: in the email you’re writing right now. This is one of those Labs features that should have become standard years ago. Though maybe it’s because Google engineers secretly hate signatures as much as I do.
Inserting Images: If you’ve ever wondered why Gmail didn’t have the power to embed images into an email in addition to attaching them, wonder no more! The power to create pretty, image-filled emails is now yours.
Send & Archive: For Inbox Zero practitioners who archive all their emails, this button should save you thousands of precious, precious clicks. Did you know there are kids in China who are click-rationing? Think of the children.
Let Me Gmail That For You
If you’re on the internet and you have a web-proficient, short-tempered friend then you may have gotten linked to Let Me Google That For You.
Basically, if one of your friends ask an easily google-able question then instead of giving them the answer, you do a search on the website Let Me Google That For You and send them that link instead, which shows you doing a search. It’s both snarky and instructional, which means it’s basically my favorite thing. After all, this article is essentially a giant annotated LMGTFY.
But search isn’t the only way you can be snarky and instructional. Since Gmail is a web client, links to search results are universal. If two people are emailing and one uses the phrase “the rooster crows at midnight” then either one who does a search for that phrase will turn up the same email.
I once had a friend ask me to email her my snail mail address four times in the span of a couple months. The 4th time, instead of emailing her my address I emailed her a link to a Gmail search for my last name and the word address. I knew my previous emails to her had those words so those emails would pop right up in that Gmail search in her account.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll stop sending you requests for information he could find on Facebook because that’s the whole point of that site anyways, and what are we doing as a society if we can’t even keep Facebook updated with the basic information it was designed for.
This probably isn’t a great tactic to take with everyone, obviously. You can’t do this with people who don’t have Gmail and it’s probably not something, say, your boss at work would appreciate. But as a gentle ribbing of close friends, there’s nothing better.
For more Gmail hacking, see how to receive email like a boss and Monday check out how to deal with your overstuffed inbox.
Sarah Pavis is an engineer, writer and avid overthinker.
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