How to make Gmail work like Outlook

Switched from Outlook to Gmail for work? Here are seven ways to make things feel more familiar and get some useful Outlook-like features.

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Most people resist change. If your company recently switched to Google’s G Suite from Microsoft Office, you might feel confused by or less productive with the new platform — especially when it comes to email. Or you might like Gmail’s features and interface but wish it had some components similar to Outlook.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make Gmail function like Outlook. It’s sometimes overwhelming to start using Gmail after being used to Outlook, but these easy-to-implement tips will help you speed the transition.

IT folks: Share this story with your users to help them feel more at home in G Suite.

1. Embrace Gmail’s labels

In Outlook, many people use folders as an organizational tool, moving individual emails out of the inbox and into the folder that seems most appropriate. Labels are Gmail’s equivalent of Outlook’s folders, and they, too, help with email organization.

The process of creating labels isn’t difficult. When you open a message in Gmail, you’ll see several icons along the top of the window. One on the far right looks like a tag. Clicking it shows a list of existing labels. Select a checkbox next to one or more labels in the provided list and click Apply. Alternatively, you can click the “Create new” option and create a new label name.

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Click the tag icon to see a list of labels to apply to your message, or create a new one.

By default, the labels you create appear in Gmail’s left-hand pane, similar to Outlook folders. Click any label to see all the messages with that label.

To manage your labels, click the tag icon and select “Manage labels” option. Here you can edit label names and control which labels appear in Gmail’s left-hand pane, message list and label list.

2. Try automatic filtering for labels

Once you create labels, you can set up filters to automatically mark Gmail messages with those labels. Outlook allows something similar under the “Rules” option on the Ribbon’s Home tab.

The first step is to click the down arrow on the right side of Gmail’s search box at the top of the screen. That action opens an advanced search box.

Next, enter a relevant query in the appropriate field. For example, to create a filter where all emails from a particular address go to a label called "Work," enter that address in the "From" box, then click the gray "Create filter" button at the bottom right, just to the left of the Search button.

That step generates a box with a checklist containing more specific actions. All the choices relate to what happens when an email from the provided address arrives in a Gmail inbox. The fourth checkbox, “Apply the label…” is the one to choose in this instance. Click the down arrow to specify which label to use for messages matching the filter. You can make a new label by selecting the “New label” option near the top of the list.

Check out the last option on the checklist too. It permits applying the filter to all matching conversations that are already in the inbox. By selecting that choice, you can quickly deal with large quantities of mail.

3. Apply colors to Gmail labels

Outlook lets you add colored labels to messages so it’s easy to spot particular emails (such as those from your boss) in a crowded inbox.

Fortunately, that feature applies to Gmail, too. It’s possible to choose a color for a label in Gmail and apply it for more efficient sorting. You can even pick a custom hue.

First, locate the desired label in Gmail’s left pane — or choose More if it’s not listed there. Then, hover your cursor over the label name until you see the triple-dot icon appear to the right of it. Click it and choose the first option, “Label color.” Placing your cursor over it makes choices appear, including a color swatch assortment and an “Add custom color” option.

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Giving certain labels their own colors can make them stand out in your inbox.

Also, look at the options on the three-dot menu for either showing or hiding the colored label in Gmail’s message list. For this purpose, make sure the checkmark appears next to “Show.”

4. Disable Gmail’s conversation view

Gmail and Outlook both allow you to see messages as threaded conversations. Then, if people reply to the original content, everything appears together in one updated message instead of separately. Threaded conversations are relatively new to Outlook, however, so longtime Outlook users often prefer seeing single messages instead of grouped ones.

A simple tweak within Gmail’s settings allows you to turn the conversation view off — or on. Click the Settings cog mentioned in the previous tip and choose Settings from its menu. Then, on the General tab, scroll down to the Conversation View section and choose the desired option.

5. Enable Gmail’s preview pane

Outlook users get a preview pane that lets them look at the first few lines of emails without leaving the main inbox view.

Gmail has that capability, too, but it’s part of the Advanced section, which was once called Labs. It contains experimental features that could change or go away at any time.

Find it by clicking Gmail’s Settings cog at the top right of the inbox pane, then choose “Settings” from the drop-down list. Choose the “Advanced” tab at the top. Find the “Preview Pane” option and select the “Enable” button. Then, scroll down to the “Save Changes” button and click it.

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Miss Outlook’s preview pane? You can get the same feature in Gmail.

The leftmost icon shown in a row at the top right of Gmail’s inbox lets you toggle the preview pane on and off. Click the down arrow to the right of that icon to choose whether the message preview shows to the right of or below the main email list.

6. Use Chrome extensions that mimic Outlook’s functionality

Chrome extension developers have designed several options that bring Outlook-like functions to Gmail. For instance, Blade Signatures allows you to create custom signatures, while KeyRocket facilitates using keyboard shortcuts. There’s also LinkedIn Sales Navigator Lite (formerly Rapportive), which helps you add notes about people in your contact list.

7. Import an Outlook calendar

If you aren’t ready to completely leave Outlook behind, that’s okay. Gmail allows you to import Outlook calendars. First, go into Outlook and save the calendar as an iCal file: Select the calendar you want to export and click “File” then “Save Calendar.” You can either keep the same calendar name or change it, and then click “Ok” and then “Save.” Pay attention to the options for how much of the calendar data to include.

After saving the Outlook calendar file, open Google Calendar on a computer. Click the plus sign next to “Add a friend’s calendar” in the left pane and choose the Import option from the menu that appears. You’ll see a screen with two boxes: Import and Export. Use the first box to import the file (choose “Select file from your computer” and select the file you saved) and the second one to choose which Google calendar should include the Outlook information.

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If you’d like to see events from an Outlook calendar in Google, you can import it.

Finally, you can view the desired calendar in Gmail by clicking on the calendar icon on the right of Gmail’s main screen. A calendar pane appears on the right. Click the triple-dot icon and then “Select calendars.” Be sure the calendar with the Outlook information is checked. You can also use the triple-dot menu to select either Day view or Schedule view.

This story, "How to make Gmail work like Outlook" was originally published by Computerworld.