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Become a Gmail power-user

When our district changed e-mail services from Exchange/Outlook/Entourage to GoogleApps for Education's Gmail 15 months ago, I was expecting some complaints. And I wasn't disappointed.

But the those most upset by the change were not those who struggled with technology, but those who took the greatest advantage of Outlooks more advanced features - the power users.

Most of the things that our Outlook power-users liked could also be accomplished using Gmail but not without some tweaking, adding some extra browser helper apps, and just plain doing things a little differently. Threaded e-mail and labels caused the most difficulty for people.

Over the past year, Gmail has made some major improvements. One can choose not to view "threaded" conversation, labels act about like folders once did, and many of the features that once needed helper apps are now a part of Gmail. When I ask staff today, they say they like Gmail. Whew!

Even with the improvements in Gmail, there are still features and functions that "power-users" know and use. In a class I'm creating for staff members, here are the ones I believe are most useful. (I'm trying to stay away from browser add-ons since we have a variety browsers being used.)

  1. It's no longer a sin to be disorganized: using "search" in Gmail (and the one link everyone misses).
  2. It's not really a drag: drag and drop attachments.
  3. Max the toolbar: add pictures, links, and formatting to your messages.
  4. See Dr. Google's latest creatures: finding and using "Labs" tools.
  5. Never see my name in your inbox again!: the joy of filters.
  6. The magic triangle Part I: working with labels and sub-labels.
  7. The magic triangle Part II: working with individual messages in a thread.
  8. Ready, get settings, go: tweaking your signature, vacation responder, and other cool things.
  9. Soft contacts: managing, adding, merging, and creating groups in contacts.
  10. Get a makeover: themes.
  11. I'm not schizophrenic and neither am I: two Gmail accounts - one browser? No problemo.
  12. For road warriors only: checking your mail on your mobile device.

What other things do Gmail power users know how to do?

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Reader Comments (10)

I am intrigued by the things you've posted here. I am a GMail user, but far from a power user. I would love to be part of the training you are doing!

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Childers

I love Google Tools! How can I get my fearful, hand wringing IT department to consider using Google Apps for education? We are currently stuck with Lotus Notes for email, Teacher Web for teacher websites, no District student email addresses, Microsoft Office, and a host of other patched together applications.
Their main concerns are the "security of the cloud" and FERPA regulations on protecting students' information. How did your district address this when making the switch to Google?

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLen Bryan

Brilliant, Sweet, & Succinct!...I've been trying to convince my district to try Google Apps & Gmail
- this is very convincing & helpful ...Thank you Doug!

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGwyneth Jones

I don't use gmail as my primary email, but have thought about changing, and I am trying to get my district to move to Google Apps and start using gmail for our staff and students. One thing that has held me back is that the emails ONLY appear as threaded, and while that's sometimes useful, I usually want a strict chronological listing. I just saw in your posting that you can now choose not to view conversations as threaded, but I'm still not finding a setting for that. Could you point me to it? Thanks!

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJane Lofton

Doug, are you going to be putting your handouts for these online somewhere? Our school is transitioning to Google for Education. I know our users are going to have the same concerns.

I have done my personal stuff using Google applications for a while and would love to know how to be a Gmail power user myself too.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Martin

I would consider myself a semi-power user. I just play around with and try new things and see what works for me. I can do most of the stuff you mention, but haven't really tried anything with signatures. It'd be nice to know what you can do with those. I like the different backgrounds, though I now use a more minimalist one. I personally like Priority Inbox and love the use of filters and labels to cut down on the "noise."

I too would love to get out district away from Lotus Notes and Outlook and IE and all that but they are really paranoid about "protecting our data" and won't even look into it as far as I know. Of course, I haven't had the time to really push it. Maybe next year I can try to send out some feelers and see if I can interest anyone. The biggest selling point - I would think - would be the $ savings. Am I right with that assumption?


March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

Hi Tim,

You'd be welcome. When I get some help sheets created, I'll share them on the blog.


Hi Len,

Hank Thiele in To Learn Twice has a couple great posts that address some of the concerns often raised about implementing GoogleApps. Here are the links:

He says it better than I can!


Hi Gwyne,

We've been happy with the switch and so far everyone in the department is out of jail.


Hi Jane,

To un-thread conversations, go to Settings -> General tab -> Conversation view (about six items down). Select Conversation view off.

Easy cheesy,


Hi Kathy,

I'll put the help sheets online somewhere and let Blue Skunk readers know where to find them. May be a few weeks.


Hi Ninja,

Cost savings, less maintenance, greater reliability, more security and just plain convenience are benefits of the move. If you go the whole GoogleApps for Education package, there are incredible things that can be done to facilitate sharing and collaboration. I've written about this quite a bit so if you want links, let me know.


March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Keyboard shortcuts? That's all I could think of that your list is missing.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuss Goerend

Hi Doug,

Thanks so much for the information about how to unthread. I somehow missed that "conversation view" was what I was looking for.

I'd like to quote your comment that "Cost savings, less maintenance, greater reliability, more security and just plain convenience are benefits of the move. If you go the whole GoogleApps for Education package, there are incredible things that can be done to facilitate sharing and collaboration." if I may in contacting my district administration to lobby for Google Apps. If you know of any other articles, links, etc. recommending Google Apps, that would be great. Thanks so much!

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJane Lofton

Good suggestion, Russ. I don't use many myself so I didn't think about them!


Hi Jane,

You might try this article on cloud computing as a starter:

If do a search on Google Apps on my blog, you will find quite a few blog posts I've written about the hows and whys of this switch as well.

Good luck!


March 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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