Using Keyboard Shortcuts in Google Tools

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Last month I covered an easy way to create keyboard shortcuts for anything. Using the built-in tools of Mac OS X or AutoHotkey in Windows, you can customize keystrokes for any program to help you get your work done faster. Of course, many of us do our work in browsers these days. You can use shortcuts to control the browser itself—using Ctrl-T / Cmd-T to open a new tab, for example—but that will almost never help you control the specifics of a site.

There are many reasons that we at ProfHacker are fans of all things Google, but one of mine is that Google has enabled keyboard shortcuts in a number of its tools: Gmail, Calendar, Reader, and Docs. These shortcuts aren’t enabled by default in Gmail, but they’re very easy to turn on. Just click on the gear in the upper-right corner and choose “Mail settings.”

Gmail settings

Then look down the list of options (it should be third) for the “Keyboard shortcuts” option and set it to “on.”

Gmail settings for keyboard shortcuts

Click “Save changes” on the bottom of the page, and you’re ready to go! Of course, you don’t know what those shortcuts are, but Gmail has a handy way of showing you. Just type the question mark when you’re looking at your inbox, and you’ll get an overlay that shows you all of the different shortcuts. You can see some of them below:

keyboard shortcuts

As you can see from this excerpt, some of the keyboard shortcuts are multi-key strokes. But there are other shortcuts that only use a single key that I find myself using much more often. The two that are my favorites allow me to hit “e” to simply archive a conversation or “#” to delete the conversation. I’m also a big fan of “r” for replying or “a” for “reply all.” Finally, once I’ve finished typing an email, I can simply hit “Tab” and then “Enter” to send it on its way. There are many more shortcuts than I ever use, but I know that if I ever find myself wishing for one, it’s probably already there and I can find it just by typing “?”.

Along with Gmail, you can also enable keyboard shortcuts in Google Calendar. Keyboard shortcuts are automatically enabled with Google Reader, and there appears to be no way to disable them. As with Gmail, you can see all of the shortcuts in Calendar (once enabled) and Reader by typing the question mark. There are keyboard shortcuts in Google Docs, but instead of using the question mark you learn what they are by looking at the drop-down menu bars.

It takes a little effort to remember what the different shortcuts are for the different tools, but I get things done in Gmail so much faster that I’m glad I’ve taken the time to learn them. Do you use the keyboard shortcuts in Google’s suite of tools? Which shortcut is your personal favorite? Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: Short Cut Road / Nic McPhee /

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