As many companies, governments, and educational organizations consider making the switch to Google Apps, the question is raised of how productive one can be on the cloud-based system. While Google Apps and Gmail might not offer a complete replacement for heavy Microsoft Office users, it does offer a suitable set of tools for the average user.
Here are 10 tips to help you optimize your productivity when using Google Apps.
1. Offline editing
Perhaps one of the most contested points of the use of Google Apps in the enterprise is the necessity of an Internet connection to access documents. There is a little-known way to move your Google Apps files down to your desktop.
This offline editing feature used to be visible on your drive page. It seems now that the only way to access this feature now is to copy and paste the below URL into your browser:
Once there you simply click the "Enable Offline" button to enable offline editing. Bear in mind, however, that this can only be enabled on one Google account per computer. If this link simply takes you to your list of Google Drive files then you may already have offline editing enabled for another account.
2. Google Drive on your desktop
Connecting your Google Drive to your desktop creates a local folder that is directly connected to your Google Drive. This feature is not about offline editing capabilities, but it does offer an easy way to drag-and-drop files such as PDF documents from your computer into Google Drive.
To connect your Google Drive to your desktop, simple click the "Connect Drive to Desktop" link on the left side of your Drive landing page (or follow this link). It will give you the opportunity to download and install Google Drive for your specific operating system and it will create a Google Drive folder on your computer. That's where you drag and drop files into the folder to save them into your Google Drive.
3. Pin tabs
The Google Chrome pin tab feature allows users to pin tabs in their browser window to a smaller size so that they can lock their most important tabs together in one place. This is a handy feature for those of us that keep our Gmail, Google Drive, and Calendar open all the time, but it can also prove useful for users who work in multiple Google Docs. To pin a tab, all you have to do is right click, or control+click for Mac users, on a tab and click the "Pin Tab" option.
Keep in mind that when you add a new tab, it will open to the right of your full set of pinned tabs, even if you open it from within your group of pinned tabs. Also, once a tab is pinned, it will no longer update with a live count like you would see on your Twitter tab for new tweets. To un-pin a tab, right-click the tab and click "Unpin Tab" or simply close the tab.
4. Action buttons in Gmail
With quick action buttons in Gmail, users can respond to event invitations, check-in for flights, view attachments, and review products, among other things, without opening an email. When checking your email in Gmail, look on the far right of the individual subject line and, if there is an action available, there should be a drop-down button where you can select how you want to respond.
5. Use Drive to share files
Gmail limits attachments to 25 MB, but it will allow users to insert a link to a Google Drive file, up to 10 GB in size, in an email. When in the "Compose" window, hover over the + at the bottom of the window and it will change to show you a few different options. Click the Drive logo and you will be able to choose a file from your Google Drive to insert into the email.Once you insert a file into an email, you will be prompted to choose what access you want to give the recipient. When you have selected the access for the recipient, click "Share and Send" to send your email with the file. The file will appear as a blue link in the body of the email and recipients will have the option to save the file to their own drive.
We have seen a few instances where a recipient is unable to access a file through the link. At that point, the user is back to square one and has to try to attach the file or link to a dropbox.
6. SMS appointment reminders
Getting appointment reminders from your Google calendar sent to your phone can really help if you have to be away from your desk during the day. The first step to setting up the SMS alerts is to enable the feature and link your mobile number in calendar settings. Click the gear icon on the top right of your calendar page and select "Settings." Then, click the "Mobile Setup" option at the top and fill out the forms on that page and click save.
Once you have the feature enabled, you will need to select the reminder to be sent to your phone. When you are creating the event, or viewing an event, you have the option to select a reminder. Once the SMS feature in enable, it should show up on the drop-down menu next to "Reminders." Once you have selected SMS, finish creating the reminder and it should text you at the appointed time.
7. Paste without formatting
This is, without a doubt, one of the best tips for those of us who use Google Docs to create content. Basically, it enables the user to paste a section of text without any of its original formatting if you are pasting into a Google App from Chrome.
Highlight and copy a section of text, then paste it by clicking Control + Shift + V for a PC or Command + Shift + V for a Mac. You should be able to paste your text into a document with no formatting issues.
8. Google Tasks
Another oft-overlooked feature of Google Apps is the tasks feature available in Gmail and Google Calendar. To access tasks through Gmail, click on the drop-down arrow next to "Mail" on the top left section of your screen.Tasks can be created from the task inbox or an email. There is a + at the bottom of the tasks inbox to create a new task. From an email, click the "More" drop-down button at the top of an email and click "Add to tasks." Tasks created from an email will link back to the original email so you can understand the context of the task. You can also use this button to create an event from an email. For Chrome users, Google also offers a Tasks extension.
9. Email filters
This is a great resource for folks who are making the move from Microsoft Outlook and are looking for a feature that is similar to the "rules" feature of Outlook. To access filters, first click the gear icon on the top right of your Gmail page. Select settings, and Filters tab will be at the top of the settings page toward the middle.
Once you reach the filters page, you will have the option to create a new filter or import filters. Click "Create a new filter" to create a filter based on sender, recipient, included words, attachments, and a couple other options. The import filters options will let you upload an XML file to import filters from that file.
10. Label emails
One of the easiest ways to quickly clean up your inbox is through the use of labels. Labels are essentially tags to help your categorize certain emails. Labels took the place of the previously-available folders for your inbox. You have the option to create new labels, and the color code them to help with organization. For example, I use red for my "Urgent" label.
To create a new label click the down around next to "More" on the left side of the page under where it says Inbox and Sent Mail. You will then see the option under that to "Create new label." Once you click that and enter the name of your label, you will have the option next to that label under an existing one, essentially making it a sub-label. Meaning, you can create a "Finance" label nested under "Urgent" to categorize urgent financial emails.
Once you have created a label, you have the option to assign or change the label's color. When you see the label name appear on the left side of the page, there will be a down arrow that appears when you hover over the name of the label. Click that arrow to assign a color. At this point you can drag the label onto an email in your inbox to add a color tag or drag an email into the label to move it out of inbox and into the label.
Once you have labels created, you can set up email filters to send emails from certain contacts or with certain subjects to a label, bypassing the inbox altogether. This has the potential to save you a lot of time in the morning as you sift through your new emails.
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.