Google provides plenty of ways to customize Mail settings. Click on the sprocket-shaped icon in the upper right while in Mail and then choose Settings from the drop-down menu. You'll see the General Mail settings. Here you can choose how many conversations (or emails) display per page, create a custom signature, or configure a vacation responder message.
If you choose the "Web Clips" menu tab, you can turn off "web clips", those brief bits of miscellaneous information that appear at the top of the column where email is displayed.
This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.
There's also a "Labs" tab. Each Google Mail Labs feature adds new capabilities or changes how Mail works. For example, the "Google Maps previews in Mail" lab adds a feature: it shows a Google Map of an address in the text of an email. The "Default 'Reply to All'" lab changes how Mail works. It makes "reply to all" the default, instead of "reply to sender".
At the time of this writing, there are at least 39 Labs features available. You can enable or disable each of the features anytime. (If you use Google Apps and don't see the "Labs" option in your settings, your Administrator may have disabled access to Google Mail Labs.) After you "enable" or "disable" a Lab feature, remember to click "Save" at the bottom of the Labs list to keep any changes.
Here are three Labs features you may find useful:
Create a Document from email
This Labs feature does exactly that: creates a new Google document using the contents of an email.
Google Documents enable effective multi-person text editing. Email works quite poorly for editing. The next time you realize you're editing text, adding to a list, or providing extensive comments in email - STOP! Instead, move the conversation to a Google document.
To use Create a Document from an email:
1. Enable Create a Document within Google Labs.
2. When an email is open, click on the "More" menu button at the top of the screen, then choose "Create a document". Google Docs will open and the text from the email thread will be displayed in the document.
3. Edit the text as desired.
4. Use the Share button in the upper right to share the document with your email correspondents. You've now successfully moved from an email-centric conversation to a document-centric one.
Canned Responses let you insert saved blocks of text into an email. Use Canned Responses for frequently emailed information such as directions, replies to common inquiries, or descriptions of products or services.
Canned Responses can include links to web addresses. These links can be from text or images. I use a Canned Response as a signature that includes a link to my Google+ profile.
To use Canned Responses:
1. Enable Canned Responses within Google Labs.
2. Click on "Compose" to create a new email.
3. Enter the information you want to use as your canned response in the body of the email.
4. When you're finished, click on Canned Responses and select "New canned response..." from the drop-down menu. You'll be prompted to give the Canned Response a name.
4. From now on, anytime you want to insert that text into an email, simply choose the Canned Response menu and select your canned response.
Message Sneak Peek
Some Google Labs features are most useful in unusual circumstances. Message Sneak Peek displays the contents of an email without opening the email. Viewing a "Sneak Peek" keeps the status of an email as "unread".
Message Sneak Peek is especially useful if more than one person accesses an email account. For example, I have one client where Susan uses Message Sneak Peek to look at an email. If it is something she needs to handle, she can then open it. If not, she can proceed to the next email. Later, when her colleague Mary views the account, the email will still be displayed as unread. This saves time, since they do not have to constantly mark email as "unread" thanks to the Message Sneak Peek feature.
To use Message Sneak Peek:
1. Enable Message Sneak Peek within Google Labs.
2. Right-Click on an email in the Inbox to "Sneak Peek" at the message contents.
I have 14 Google Mail Labs features enabled for my account. Which Google Mail Labs features do you use?
Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.