To become a Gmail power user, you’ll need to master Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts allow you to speed through your mail faster than you can click. Gmail even lets you create custom keyboard shortcuts.

Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts aren’t enabled by default and don’t appear when you hover over interface elements, so you won’t find them yourself unless you explore Gmail’s settings. This guide will get you up and running quick.

Enabling Keyboard Shortcuts

To enable keyboard shortcuts, pull up Gmail’s settings page from the gear menu.

Select the “Keyboard shortcuts on” option on the General pane, and then click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.

You can also just click this link to automatically enable keyboard shortcuts.

Cheat Sheet

Press Shift? to view the built-in cheat sheet after enabling keyboard shortcuts. You can also consult Google’s list of Gmail keyboard shortcuts.

The Basics

This cheat sheet is overwhelming to start with, so here are some important ones to get you started.

k / j – Goes to a newer or older conversation. This is equivalent to clicking the arrow-button-shaped Newer or Older buttons at the top right corner of each Gmail conversation.

p / n – Selects the previous or next message in a conversation. Press the Enter button to expand the message.

Use keyboard shortcuts to quickly perform actions within conversations:

  • e – Archive
  • r – Reply
  • a – Reply All
  • f – Forward

Once you’ve written an email, press Tab and Enter to send it.

You can perform most Gmail actions with keyboard shortcuts, including making a phone call (g then p). Consult the cheat sheet for the keyboard shortcuts you need.

Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

You aren’t restricted to the built-in keyboard shortcuts. Enable the Custom keyboard shortcuts lab to customize Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts and add your own. (Bear in mind that this is a labs feature and, like all labs features, may disappear at any time.)

You’ll find the Custom keyboard shortcuts lab on the Labs tab in Gmail’s settings. Enable the lab and click the Save Changes button to activate it.

The lab adds a new tab to Gmail’s Settings page. From the tab, you can define alternate shortcut keys for the included functions or change the default keyboard shortcuts.

To disable your custom keyboard shortcuts, click the Restore Defaults link at the bottom of the Keyboard Shortcuts pane. You can also disable the Custom keyboard shortcuts lab from the Labs page.

Wondering why Gmail uses j and k for the previous and next message shortcuts? These keyboard shortcuts originated in the Vi text editor for UNIX.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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