Gmail tips for journalists: Take advantage of Labs

This was updated in February, 2013. I don’t necessarily use all of the features listed below under “Labs” at this point, mainly because my job has changed and I have different workflow needs now. I still found these items useful at one point and would again if I had daily production deadlines rather than weekly ones! 

Also: I recommend not even bothering with this document until you’ve got Gmail open in front of you! Use it one piece at a time. 

Gmail tips for journalists: Take advantage of Labs web journalism Huh? Gmail for journalists? How different could email use be for journalists and, you know, normal people?

Well, not that different, in truth, but here are some productivity tips that I find especially helpful while I’m working. Let’s see how you can improve your workflow in these areas:


Gmail has a swell set of optional features that you can access through your settings menu. Just click the little gear in the top right corner of your email screen, then select “Labs.”

Here’s what I’ve got enabled and why:


When you send an email, you’re sent back to the inbox. When you archive an email, you’re sent back to the inbox. Great if you only deal with one email at a time, I guess, but you don’t do that, do you? You deal with email in great, big batches because the folks in presentation keep putting your email address in the newspaper.

When you’ve dealt with one email, auto-advance immediately opens the next one in your queue.

Small time-saver, but every second counts!

Canned Responses (aka best Lab ever)

Gmail tips for journalists: Take advantage of Labs web journalism

A canned response can be a huge time-saver — and you’ll never forget a detail.

I don’t care what kind of reporter or editor you are, you get the same question over and over again. I don’t know what that question is, but I know that there’s at least one that you keep answering time and time again — and that doesn’t have to be personal.

In my case as a features editor, there were several: How can I submit an engagement announcement? How can I submit events for the calendar? Will you review my book? And on and on.

Sure, you can save answers to these in a separate document and copy and paste, but Canned Responses gives you a dropdown menu right in the compose field so you’re just a couple of clicks away from telling that local author exactly how to submit his or her book for the local author spotlight. Big time-saver.

This is one of two Labs features (the other is Superstars, but I think this one is cooler) that I show people regularly to find them gobsmacked that they didn’t know about it before.

“I’ve wasted my youth!”

I know.

I know.

Google Calendar gadget

I live in my email, so it’s great to see which meetings I’m late for without having to switch tabs!

Google Docs gadget

My team uses the heck out of Google Docs, whether it’s for long-range planning or for keeping track of what’s done and what needs to be done for tomorrow’s paper.

Google Docs previews in mail

Convenient if your team sends a bunch of Google Docs around. If not, skip it.

Mark As Read Button

Another simple time saver — if I’m trying to reach Inbox Zero (a mythical state of being toward which many productivity gurus strive), I can select a bunch of emails that I know aren’t worth reading and mark them as read all at once, rather than having to, you know, open and read them.

Multiple Inboxes

Gmail tips for journalists: Take advantage of Labs web journalism

It’s all too much! Let Multiple Inboxes sort your mail into “stacks” for you. The red arrows point to my two extra mailboxes, which are my to-do list (top) and mail specifically from coworkers (bottom).

You really need a large monitor for this to be useful, but if that’s your situation and you want to keep a constant eye on three sorted types of email, use it. (If you don’t, see Quick Links below for a substitute.)

I get a lot of email and while I want to make sure I don’t miss anything, it’s a little bit crazy to look at all of it and be able to immediately catch pressing stuff. Yes, Google has developed the “Priority Inbox,” but that’s just not my thing — I think that I’m better at sorting my correspondence than Google is. (At least until Google rules the world, at which point I believe whatever it wants me to believe.)

Multiple Inboxes allows you to set up additional inboxes visually — so I use one to display specifically stuff from people at my own domain (all of my reporters’ emails and bosses’ emails and announcements that there are bagels in the conference room) and I use one to display just items that I have starred, so I always have a heads-up display of my to-do list right there.

Other possible uses: Your main inbox, a side inbox for social network notifications and another side inbox for emails specifically from your editor. Or a side inbox dedicated to a particularly active listserv.

This one pairs great with Superstars (see above, under Settings and filters) because you can set up a search for all items to which you have applied a specific type of star by using these handy Gmail Superstar text search codes (or just get them by hovering your cursor over the stars in the Settings/General tab).

I use the red exclamation point to indicate items in my email that are to be used in tomorrow’s newspaper.

So to set up the ultimate to-do list for tomorrow’s paper, I go into my settings, click “Multiple Inboxes” (because I’ve already enabled that, too) and I tell it that I want the first extra inbox to search for “l:^ss_cr” — which tells Gmail I want to find all of the items with a red exclamation point (again, see the Gmail Superstar text search codes link above).

Here’s what that looks like:

Gmail tips for journalists: Take advantage of Labs web journalism

Now look back up at my Multiple Inboxes image — you’ll see what these settings produce.

Navbar Drag and Drop

This just makes it easier for you to rearrange the various components of your Gmail screen. Say you want your calendar higher than your chat interface — sure, just drag it there.

Quick Links

With this, you can create links to any other part of Gmail and stash them on the left navbar of Gmail. This is a decent substitute for Multiple Inboxes (see above) if you have a small monitor. Let’s say you want a quick link to emails from a specific domain. You’d do a search for from:* and hit “Search.”

Then, while you’re viewing the search results, you can click “Add Quick Links” on your Quick Links bar and it’ll save that search. Voila — instant inbox for just company stuff. Or just to do list stuff. Or just stuff from the finance manager. Whatever. Make it yours.

Signature Tweaks

Google description is all you need here: “Places your signature before the quoted text in a reply, and removes the ‘–‘ line that appears before signatures.”

Title Tweaks

Again a case where Gmail’s description is plenty: “Changes order of elements in the browser title bar from ‘Gmail – Inbox (20) –’ to ‘Inbox (20) – – Gmail.’ This way you are able (most of the time) to see if a new mail has arrived even if Prairie Mountain Publishing Mail window is minimized.”