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6 clever Gmail tricks to cut down on regret, frustration and spam

CNET logo CNET 22/01/2020 Dale Smith
a close up of a screen: There's much more to Gmail going on below the surface. Derek Poore/CNET © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. There's much more to Gmail going on below the surface. Derek Poore/CNET

Over 1.5 billion people use Gmail to stay in touch with friends and family, to keep connected to their coworkers and supervisors, and occasionally to send grumpy cat memes. But with all those vacation photos, spreadsheets and animated gifs flying back and forth, errors are bound to happen, mistakes are likely to be made.

If you've ever accidentally sent photos of Baby Yoda cat to your entire work team, or video of Cinderblock the fat cat to your significant other who's at the gym, you know the kind of regret that makes you wish you could hit Unsend. Thankfully, Google knows it too, so the search company added an Undo option to Gmail to reverse exactly those kinds of accidents.

But that's not all. Gmail is actually chock full of hidden tricks to help you deal with all kinds of modern problems, from instant email remorse to filtering out spam -- and even one trick that'll help you message other people's phones after yours has died.

For all kinds of situations that can go south with but a click, here are five ways Gmail's got your back the next time you're in a bind over email.

30 seconds to regret: How to unsend Gmail messages

Nearly everyone has caught a typo after hitting Send. Or worse, wished they could renege on whatever profanity-laced missive they just fired off in the heat of the moment. Thankfully, Gmail offers an undo feature, but it comes with a catch: There's a time limit on deciding whether the email you just sent belongs in the world or not.

By default, Gmail gives you five seconds to take it all back, but you can increase it up to 30 seconds to give your future self more time to fix a mistake. 

First, click the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner and navigate to Settings > General. Toward the top of the list of settings, you'll find Undo Send: followed by a drop-down menu. 

Change it from 5 to 10, 20 or 30 seconds and you're set. You now have that much longer to change your mind by clicking Undo on the banner you'll see at the bottom of the screen after you send off your message.

Unlimited aliases, sort of

Have you ever signed up for a newsletter just to get a discount on a retail site, or gotten frustrated after having to unsubscribe from all the junk email your streaming services send out? There's a way to corral all that unwanted mail without having to create a totally different Gmail account.

By simply adding a + to the end of your username (but before the "@") you can create infinite variations of your Gmail address. For example, username+junkmail@gmail.com will direct email to your main address without giving it away to spammers. You can then filter messages containing "username+junkmail" into your junk or trash folder so you never have to be bothered to delete them again. 

This trick isn't just useful for filtering junk -- it allows you to create an infinite variety of email addresses for all your various roles in life while maintaining a single login for all of them. 

Using your personal email address for your job? Create "username+work@gmail.com" to identify all work-related emails. Member of a book or car club? Use "username+club@gmail.com" to track emails from other members. Active in your church? Create "username+church@gmail.com"...you get the idea.

Use filters more creatively

Filters can do a lot more than just separate emails into categories. For example, creating a filter that scans your inbox for the word "unsubscribe" and automatically sends those emails to your junk folder will weed out any newsletters you may or may not have signed up for.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Gmail allows you to create customized filters to help sort your incoming mail. Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Gmail allows you to create customized filters to help sort your incoming mail. Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

A filter for "tracking number" will collect tracking info for all your purchases into one specific folder. You can even create a filter to mark all messages as "read," so you'll never have to worry about that little badge icon tempting you to check your email every five minutes.

7 steps to a tidier inbox

1. Click the gear icon and choose Settings.

2. Select Filters & Blocked Addresses tab.

3. Click Create New Filter.

4. Enter keywords in relevant field: From to filter by sender, Has the words to scan entire emails, etc.

5. Click Create Filter.

6. Decide what to do with the filtered mail: Delete itSkip the Inbox (Archive it)Mark as ReadImportant, etc.

7. Click Create Filter.

When your phone dies, send texts from Gmail instead

You don't need a charged phone with a data or Wi-Fi connection to send a text message -- Gmail can handle it for you right from your desktop. 

All you have to know is the recipient's phone number and carrier. To send them an SMS, compose an email putting their 10-digit phone number (no dashes) as the username and their carrier's gateway address (available on carriers' websites) as the domain in the "to" field. 

a hand holding a remote control: Dead phone? You can still text from Gmail. Sarah Tew/CNET © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Dead phone? You can still text from Gmail. Sarah Tew/CNET

For example, an email-based text to a Verizon customer would look something like 0123456789@vtext.com. Other common domains include @mms.att.net for AT&T , @messaging.sprintpcs.com for Sprint and @tmomail.net for T-Mobile .

Forgot to sign out? Log out remotely

If you often check your Gmail from a public computer, like at a library or school, you may occasionally forget to log out of your account when you're done, leaving yourself vulnerable to attack. Having access to your password-protected Gmail account may be all an identity thief needs to gain control of your bank accounts, credit cards and, if you have any smart home devices such as smart locks or security cameras , your home itself. 

The link to Details can be located at the bottom of the Gmail page, just beneath "Last Account Activity." Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. The link to Details can be located at the bottom of the Gmail page, just beneath "Last Account Activity." Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

Thankfully, Gmail allows you to view and log out of any computers or devices you're currently logged into. Simply scroll to the bottom of your Gmail page, and click Details (the link is directly beneath the message that reads Last account activity). This will pop up a page that shows everywhere you're currently logged in. Clicking the button at the top labeled Sign out all other Gmail web sessions will log you out of every session besides the one you're currently in.

There are plenty of other ways to customize Gmail to match the way you work. See our guide on 15 Gmail shortcuts you didn't know you needed for more.

Originally published last summer and updated periodically.

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