One of the most beloved features in all of email history is the ability to take back a message after you’ve hit Send. Lo and behold, Gmail has it. But few of us know about it, and fewer still know how to use it.
If you’ve never noticed the Undo Sent Message feature before, that’s because it’s not enabled by default. You have to turn it on (and you should know that it comes with some caveats, which I’ll explain in a moment), and the way to get to it is through Gmail Labs.
Gmail Labs is a playground of new features for Gmail. Anyone with a Gmail account can use them. Google warns users that these are experimental features that “may change, break, or disappear at any time.” Despite that strongly worded disclaimer, Labs features have, in my experience, been quite stable. Plus, if Labs features ever wreak havoc on your Gmail, you can go to this URL and turn them all off. To make the “please let me take back that email I just sent” panic button visible, you first need to go to Gmail Labs and turn it on. Here’s how you do just that:
How to Enable Gmail Lab Features
1. Sign into your Google or Gmail account, and go to the gear icon in the upper right.
2. Select Settings.
3. Along the horizontal navigation pane that appears, select Labs.
4. Scroll down or search for the lab features you want, and click on enable. Now scroll to the very top or very bottom and hit Save Changes.
Now that you know where to find Gmail Labs features and how to enable them, here are five I recommend trying.
5 Best Gmail Labs Features
1. Take Back a Sent Message
If you hit Send prematurely, you can have a window of opportunity to take back the action before the message is actually delivered. By default, you only have 10 seconds, but you can increase it to 30 seconds. First, turn on the Undo Send feature in Gmail Labs. Then customize the cancellation period to the maximum 30 seconds by going to the General tab in the settings and scrolling down to the Undo Send entry.
This tip was recently highlighted in my colleague Eric Griffith’s 30 Gmail Tips article. He called it “the most important Gmail Labs setting ever,” and it’s hard to disagree.
So, how do you take back that message? Right after you hit Send on any message, you’ll see an Undo link (like the one shown above) in a yellow box floating at the top. Click it in time, and your message will not be sent. Gmail will reopen the message draft and give you another shot to fix your email. Just bear in mind that you have a precious 30 seconds to prevent the message from being delivered. Gmail cannot (or at least does not) retrieve messages from a recipient’s inbox once they’re delivered but still unread, the way some email systems can.
2. Always See Your Unread Message Count
If you’re a tab hoarder, here’s one Gmail Labs feature you’ll love: a second unread messages count that appears overlaid on the Gmail logo on your browser’s tab. Its official name is “Unread message icon.”
Gmail always shows you the number of unread messages in your inbox, as long as your Gmail page is loaded to the inbox view and you don’t have so many tabs open that the number in parentheses is crowded out.
When you turn on this lab feature, you’ll always see the unread inbox message count, even if you navigate to another screen in Gmail (such as the settings) and when you have so many tabs open that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see it
3. Preview Messages
One brilliantly implemented Gmail Labs features is called Preview Pane, and it’s exactly what you’d expect. What makes this preview pane so well designed, however, is its obvious and easily accessible button to toggle the preview mode on and off. I love that if you don’t select a message to preview, one is not automatically chosen for you, which would cause that message to be marked as read.
4. Preview Your Calendar in the Mail View
The frustration of having to navigate to another tab to check your Google Calendar before replying to an email about your availability (say, for a meeting) is over with this Gmail Labs feature called Google Calendar gadget.
It adds a mini calendar and scrollable list of appointments starting with the current day.
If you enable this feature and can’t find your mini calendar, it’s probably because your left rail of stuff (folders, Gmail chat contacts, etc.) is too long. Just click on the three dots you see at the very bottom, and it should appear.
5. Find Out Who’s Using Google Chat on Android
With this Gmail Labs feature enabled, Android robot icons show up in your chat list to indicate when your friends are signed into Google on their Android mobile devices, rather than the Web version of Gmail or Google+. It’s a nice way to get some insight into why a friend or colleague might be ignoring your chat messages.