Gmail may be the de facto standard for web-based email—but sometimes, the service can start to feel a teensy bit stale.
After all, Google’s younger Inbox app is the where the company introduces its most contemporary productivity features and designs these days. But if Inbox doesn’t do the trick for you, don’t despair: With a little outside help, you can give good ol’ Gmail a fresh dose of efficiency-enhancing energy. From practical new features to time-saving interface refinements, there are plenty of ways to reinvigorate your desktop-based email environment.
I tracked down a handful of thoughtfully crafted Gmail add-ons that are worthy of your attention. Check them out and see what you think—because, really, why limit yourself to Google’s own infrequent updates to Gmail?
1. Sortd: An Inbox Of Cards And Boards
All you do is install the Chrome extension, grant it a series of permissions, and then watch as your tired old inbox gets transformed into a card-based task management center.
The setup puts all of your incoming emails into a single column on the left side of the screen. To the right is a collection of customizable boards. By default, one is called “To Do,” one is “Follow Up,” and the remaining two are waiting for your own personal focuses. You just decide how you want to put each board to use, then drag and drop emails from your inbox into the appropriate sections to keep everything organized.
Once an email is in a board, it appears as its own card, which can then be dragged up or down to adjust its position and priority. Other board-based options include changing an email’s subject to give it a task-like title, attaching private notes to an email, and setting reminders related to a specific message. You can also create standalone tasks that have those same options and act pretty much like emails, only without any associated external messages.
Beyond those basics, Sortd lets you group related emails or tasks together, set follow-up reminders while composing new emails, and snooze emails (à la Google Inbox) so they’ll disappear out of view and then return to grab your attention later.
And if you ever want to get back to the standard Gmail view, all you need to do is click the red “Gmail” bar on the right side of the screen. That opens the traditional Gmail inbox interface with some Sortd bonuses sprinkled in, such as a native-looking snooze command and a side panel that lets you view and manage your Sortd boards.
The Sortd add-on is accompanied by mobile apps—for both iOS and Android—but they’re fairly limited in function and underwhelming to use. For now, at least, this is primarily a tool for desktop-based organization.
Sortd is free on its most basic level, though if you want more than four boards or access to certain advanced features, such as custom days and times for snoozing (as opposed to the decidedly vague “Later today,” “Tomorrow,” and “Next week” default options), you’ll have to subscribe to a $2/month premium plan. Sortd also offers paid team subscriptions in which boards can be shared among multiple users.
2. Gmelius: Gmail, Supercharged
Maybe you’re mostly happy with Gmail but wish it had a few extra features—or even just options to tweak certain areas of the interface. If so, Gmelius is the add-on for you.
Like Sortd, Gmelius works via a browser extension and a series of permissions for access to your Google account, but it supports more browsers: Chrome, Safari, and Opera. Once you’ve got everything set up with your browser of choice, you’ll find a bunch of useful new features within the regular Gmail website, including commands for snoozing emails, scheduling drafts to be sent later, and adding private notes alongside individual messages. There’s even a nice-looking to-do app that’s built right into your inbox and integrated with Google Calendar.
Gmelius has some useful privacy-related options, too, like a system for detecting and blocking message trackers and a one-click link for unsubscribing from any list-generated email.
The service also provides some handy tools for improving Gmail’s appearance. You can add mouse-over message highlighting to your inbox, automatically resize images to fit within any window’s width, and force Gmail to show you the full contents of every message rather than cutting off longer emails and making you click a link to read past a certain point.
Naturally, there’s a catch: In its free form, Gmelius limits how frequently you can use some of its more advanced elements. You can snooze just five messages per month, for instance, and schedule only five emails per month without having to pay. Notes are also limited to five per month on the free plan.
If you want unlimited access to all the core features, you’ll have to pony up $5 each month to upgrade to Gmelius’s Premium tier of service. For $10 a month, meanwhile, you can bump up to the Business plan, which adds on the ability to share notes and custom templates with coworkers.
(Gmelius’s developers say Android and iOS apps are on their roadmap, though no dates have been set for those debuts.)
3. Simple Gmail Notes: A Personal Post-It System
The aptly named Simple Gmail Notes does just one thing and does it well: It allows you to attach private sticky notes to any email for your own personal reference. The notes appear above the message in the Gmail web interface and next to the subject line in the main inbox view.
The add-on works via a Chrome or Firefox extension and stores all your note data within your own Google Drive account, so no third-party servers are involved. Every note is saved as a file in Drive, and you can even search Drive yourself to find any in-note text.
Simple Gmail Notes allows you to customize your notes’ color and font size and shift the entire utility to Gmail’s sidebar, if you prefer. And that’s essentially it. If private note taking is all you’re after, this add-on is an easy and effective way to tack the feature onto your desktop-based inbox.
4. Gmail Notes: Annotations For Your Emails
If you’d rather place annotation-like notes in-line within emails, you’ll appreciate the productivity-boosting power this next add-on provides. With the Gmail Notes Chrome extension installed on your desktop computer, you can highlight any text within an email, and a box will appear with a field for contextual comments.
Type in whatever you want, hit save—and your note will then show up in blue alongside the original text. You can even edit your note later, should the need arise.
Here’s where things get particularly interesting: When you reply or forward an email in which you’ve made notes, a box will appear and ask if you want to include your notes with your outgoing message. If you select “No,” your notes will remain private. But if you select “Yes,” the recipient of your email will see your blue-highlighted annotations in-line with the message, exactly as they appear on your screen.
And while the Gmail Notes add-on is Chrome-specific, any annotations you make with it will remain visible anywhere else you sign into Gmail, including the Gmail mobile apps.
This utility and the next two add-ons come from a company called cloudHQ, which doesn’t charge for its Chrome add-ons but uses them as an opportunity to introduce you to its subscription-based cloud storage backup service (via a “cloudHQ” icon that appears at the top of the Gmail web interface). The company says it doesn’t permanently store any data on its servers, doesn’t share user data with anyone, and uses secure 256-bit encrypted SSL channels for all transmissions.
5. Convert Google Docs to Gmail Drafts: A More Versatile Way To Compose
Let’s face it: Gmail’s great for a lot of things, but when it comes to composing emails, it can be kinda confining. For times when you want a little more control over a message’s appearance, an add-on called Convert Google Docs to Gmail Drafts is ready to expand your formatting powers.
The add-on’s name is pretty self-explanatory: Once the software is connected to Chrome, you’ll see a new “Open In Gmail” button in the top-right corner of Docs on the web. You can create and perfect a message there, then simply click that button to beam your work into a new draft in Gmail. Some fonts may be substituted for Gmail-compatible alternatives, but all of your formatting—including any images, charts, or other graphical elements you’ve inserted—will carry over just as they appear in Docs.
That introduces another valuable option: By working on drafts in Docs, you can easily collaborate with other people while composing a message. Then, when everything’s finished, all you have to do is shoot the page over to Gmail and send it.
6. Snooze Email: The Simple Snoozing Solution
Snoozing email is one of the most useful functions of Google’s Inbox app, but most of the add-ons that offer similar features for Gmail — including Sortd and Gmelius, above—require paid subscriptions in order to overcome monthly usage restrictions.
The no-nonsense Snooze Email add-on for Chrome is a noteworthy exception. All the software does is add a snooze button into your Gmail web interface. Click the button, select the day and time you want the message to return, and leave yourself a private note if you want—and that’s it. The message will be archived into a special “Snoozed” label and will reappear at the top of your inbox when the appropriate time arrives.
And there you have it: some of the most practical and productivity-oriented add-ons available for Gmail today. Figure out which ones make sense for you, and watch your email efficiency soar.