Whether you’re a student, educator, executive or a scientist, Google offers online services and products that help everyone remain as productive as possible.
There are many Google services that have come and gone through the years, but a few of them — like Gmail, Google Drive and of course Google Search — stay even more relevant as time goes on.
The following is a comprehensive guide of tips, tricks, and hacks that’ll help you make better use of Google services you use. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned expert, you’re likely to find something here that you can add to your own productivity toolbox.
If you use any of these Google services and are looking to make more efficient use of them, then let’s get started.
Use the following table of contents to jump to any section that you need. Bookmark this page, and come back whenever you’re looking to streamline your use of any of these Google services.
Google Site Search | Google Calculator | Set a Timer | Convert Time Zones | Compare Calories | Convert Units | Check the Weather | Check Recent Earthquakes | Find Recipes | Check Flight Schedules | Check Sports Schedules and Scores | Check Movie Showtimes | Track Your Package | Find Your Favorite Band’s Songs | Ignore Certain Words | Play Pacman! | Set Up Google Alerts | Using the “OK Google” Voice Search
Google Search Hacks and Tips
Google was first known for its search engine. Over the years, Google has maintained its minimalist search page design, which often betrays the wealth of tools and hacks that hide just below the surface.
Don’t be fooled. There’s a lot more you can do on this page than just search the internet. Instead of searching the entire internet, you may be more interested in seeing search results from just one page.
Google Site Search
To do this, type “site:xxx.com search-term”
For example, to search MakeUseOf.com for everything to do with artificial intelligence, type “site:makeuseof.com artificial intelligence”. The results look like the following.
Google ads still display results from Google advertisers, but all regular search results are focused on the site that you’re interested in. This is a great way to find an article that you read a long time ago on a site, and want to find it again. Sometimes Google Search works better than an embedded search right on the website itself.
Sometimes while you’re browsing the internet, you might have the need to run a few calculations. Maybe you’re paying your bills and need to run some numbers from your budget. Don’t bother to open the calculator on your computer, just open Google Search and type in the formula.
When you press the enter key or click the search button, an embedded calculator pops up in the search results, displaying the answer to your calculation. You can use this calculator as any other calculator on your computer.
Pro tip: If you just want to launch the calculator without using an equation, just type “calculator” in the search field, and the embedded calculator will pop up.
Set a Timer
Did you just put a ham in the oven and sat down to use your computer, forgetting to set the oven timer? No worries, just type “timer” into the Google Search field to launch an embedded timer tool.
The timer defaults to 5 minutes. If you want to change the countdown period, just click on the timer tool and type in whatever you’d like the timer to count down from.
Or, save yourself some time and type the time you’d like right in the timer command itself. To set the timer for 12 hours and 30 minutes, just type “timer 12 hours 30 minutes“.
The timer will emit a loud beeping sound when it hits zero, so don’t forget to turn your computer speakers on. To fill the whole screen on your computer or mobile device with the timer, just press the square symbol to the right of the speaker.
Of course, if you want some more functional online timers, you might want to consider going with one of the Pomodoro timer apps that Rob wrote about.
Convert Time Zones
Want to set up a meeting with someone from another country, and not sure what time zone they’re in? Have no fear, once again Google comes to the rescue. The easiest way to do this is to type, “What time is it in London”
This shows you the time difference between your time right now and the remote location.
A quicker way to check the right remote meeting time is to ask Google to do the conversion for you by typing (without quotes) — “convert 5:30am to london”.
You can also do a time conversion to specific time zones by typing something like, “convert 6:30 pm est to utc“.
As you can see, Google Search is intelligent enough to take your plain English sentence asking for time conversions and provide you with the exact answer you need.
There are other ways to check or visualize time zones around the world, but Google search is convenient if you use it a lot.
If you’re on a diet and are watching your caloric intake, Google is there for you. You can check the calorie content and nutritional information for specific foods by asking Google. For example, typing “how many calories in an apple“, you get the estimated calorie content, and on the right a full “nutritional label” for that food.
Also, you can compare the calories in different foods to see which one you can eat more of without gaining weight! Just type in “calories apple vs orange” to see the comparison.
You’ll also see a comparison of carbohydrates, sugar, vitamins and other nutritional information.
If you’re really into eating healthier, there are also lots of great websites that’ll give you nutritional information about various foods.
There are lots of times when you may need to do a quick unit conversion, and sometimes it’s difficult to do them in your head. Google has you covered when you’re making a recipe and need to convert cups into ounces. Or you’re traveling in another country and need to convert kilometers to miles.
Converting in Google Search is as simple as typing something like “convert 3 cups to ounces“. What you’ll see in return is not just the answer, but an embedded conversion tool where you can alter either side of the conversion.
If you find that those weren’t the conversion units you wanted, just click on the dropdown arrow on either side and choose a different unit to convert.
The same feature is available via your smartphone. In Chrome mobile, as you type in your conversion question, a dropdown list of results show up that aligns with your query.
Conduct your search, and a functional conversion tool shows up in the mobile search results.
The usefulness of having such a flexible conversion tool in your pocket everywhere you go can’t be understated!
Check the Weather
Maybe, you just want to know what the weather looks like outside your office building at the moment, or you want to know how the weather is going to be during your vacation next week. Use Google as your own personal weatherman.
Type in “weather”, and Google will identify your location based on your current IP address, and then provide you with the current temp, precipitation, and humidity right now, as well as a 7-day forecast.
If you want to see the weather further out into the future, go ahead and ask Google for the weather next week.
You’ll see the weather a week from now, and the 7-day forecast from that day onward.
Check Recent Earthquakes
The weather isn’t the only thing Google Search can tell you about. Did you know you can get a full report of recent earthquakes by typing “earthquake” into the Google Search field?
This gives you a short list from the USGS of the most recent earthquakes around the world, including the time they occurred, the magnitude of the quake, and the location.
Keep in mind that for deeper research into these threats, there are plenty of earthquake tracking web services out there. Then Android weather apps and iPhone weather apps give you lots of valuable earthquake information in your pocket too.
Are you a foodie? Do you get excited at the prospect of trying some new recipe you’ve never cooked before? You may be surprised to learn that Google has access to thousands of recipes — anything that you could possibly need.
Imagine having instant access to a giant library of recipes and nutritional food information. All you have to do is type in something like “lemon meringue pie” into the search field, and there you’ve got the nutritional information about the dish, alongside search listings.
Check Flight Schedules
If you’re a frequent traveler and need to stay on top of flight times, Google may become your best friend. The fastest way to look up flight times for your local airport is to search google for “flights”. You’ll see a convenient embedded flight search tool come up.
Type in your destination, and you’ll be transported to Google Flights, where you’ll find all the flights heading out of your local airport.
If this is a tool that you find yourself using often, then you’ll want to bookmark Google Flights, so you can access this page directly for your flight time research.
Check Sports Schedules and Scores
Are you a huge sports fan? Well, Google makes it super-easy to track your favorite sports teams. Depending on the sport, you can search for a particular league, and get the upcoming season games. For example, search for NBA, and you get the schedule for upcoming basketball games.
You can also scroll through the results of recent games. For example, if you want to track the lead-up to the NFL Superbowl where the New England Patriots usually win — it’s easy!
If you have a favorite team, all you have to do is search for the team name, and you get the game schedule.
Never miss a game again with Google Search at your fingertips!
Check Movie Showtimes
It’s not only sports schedules you can check with Google Search, you can also find movie showtimes in your area straight from the search field. Just type in “movie times”, and Google will identify your location via IP, and present you with a list of movies that are showing in your area.
Pro Tip: You can also type something like “movie times hartford ct” for the movies that are available in some other area.
Click on any of the movies, and the showtimes at local cinemas appear underneath the movie listings, embedded in the search results.
As you can see, you can click on the link for any other day to see what future showtimes are, click on a period of a day (morning or night) to see showtimes during that time of day. Click on any show time to visit that cinema’s web page for purchasing advance tickets for that specific show, or buy from any other listed site that offers online movie tickets.
Track Your Package
Did you know that if you’re logged into Google, you can track your packages for the major shipping carriers? If you’ve ordered anything from Google-related companies (like from your Android smartphone), all you have to do is search for the term “track package”.
Google presents you with a tracking number field. It doesn’t really matter who you ordered from. Track any UPS, USPS or FedEx package by typing a valid tracking number from any of those carriers into the search field.
Google recognizes the correct carrier, and you get a link to visit that site for instant access to tracking information for that package. Sure, you could first go to the carrier website to do the tracking search, but why waste time when you can do that package search right from Google Search?
Or you can click to “Search your Google account” so Google can identify a list of packages it recognizes were purchased by you, and you can click to track any of them.
There are also lots of package tracking websites you can use if you track packages all the time.
Find Your Favorite Band’s Songs
Okay, so maybe you’re not into sports, but you are a music aficionado. Have no fear, band tracking is here. Just type in the name of your favorite band or artist followed by “schedule” and you can see all their upcoming showtimes and locations.
Click on the link at the bottom to buy a ticket for one of their shows.
Ignore Certain Words
Sometimes when you’re looking for certain information on topics or words with meanings, it can be useful to block certain words from search results. For example, if you search for the word “pot”, you get every result from cannabis and marijuana to pottery and the stock for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc!
You can filter out results you don’t want by typing “-” followed by words or sites that you want Google to ignore. So then “pot -potash -marijuana -cannabis” turns up some cleaner results!
Now you research pottery to your heart’s content, without looking like a pothead!
There are lots of Google Search operands that Tina listed. With their help, your web searches will be more efficient and accurate.
Feel like a quick game of Pacman? Fine! Just search google for “pacman” and you’ll have access to the Pacman Google Doodle game.
That’s not the only game available. You can also try all sorts of other past interactive games and activities on the interactive Google Doodle page.
If you love Google Doodles, make sure to check out Dave’s review of playable Google Doodles.
Set Up Google Alerts
There are times when you may want to know when specific Google Search results change with new listings in those results. Sure, you could conduct the search every day, or several times a day, but why go through the hassle when you could just automate that activity using Google Alerts?
All you have to do is enter your favorite search terms into the “Create an alert about…” field, and Google will email you whenever there are new results. Use Google Alerts for things like new movies with your favorite actor, news reports about a disease you’re concerned about, news about your favorite sports teams, and much more.
Using the “OK Google” Voice Search
Feeling a bit lazy (or lacking a keyboard)? The good news is that you don’t need a keyboard to use Google Search. On Google Chrome you can just enable the “Ok Google” feature by clicking on the small microphone icon in the Google Search field. This feature is also available for iPhone and Android phones.
This will only work if you’ve enabled your microphone in Advanced Google Chrome settings under Privacy and Security, in the Content Settings menu.
Andre described a list of cool commands you can say to Google Now beyond the standard search terms.
Google Drive Like You’ve Never Seen It
While Google Search is the most popular Google resource ever used on the internet, Google Drive isn’t too far behind. With Google Drive, create documents, spreadsheets and manage your own files right from the convenience of a cloud solution — accessible anywhere.
Mount Google Drive
The beautiful thing about Google Drive is that there are so many integrated apps that make it accessible from everywhere, including your mobile devices. Installing Google Drive on your Mac or Windows PC is simple and easy.
Once you mount your Google Drive, you can access all your sheets, documents, and other files right from the convenience of your computer.
Install as Mobile App
Save your grocery list to a Google Doc, track your finances in a Google Sheet or even create a time management system right on your Google Drive that you can access from anywhere. The power of Google Drive can’t be understated.
Cool Uses for Forms
Of course, there’s a whole lot more to Google Drive than just sheets and docs. Are you organizing an event with a bunch of friends, and looking for their input?
Forms are easy to create in Google Drive. You don’t even need to create a spreadsheet first. Just go to Google Drive, click the “New” button, and then choose “Google Forms”.
After that, it’s just a matter of piecing together your form and choosing the type of question you want to ask in each section.
Send the form to your friends, and the data collected from the form will go to a new spreadsheet that is created automatically in your Google Drive account for you.
For more details on this, make sure to check out our guide to Google Forms.
Useful IFTTT Recipes
Google Drive is such a convenient way to collect data, it becomes a perfect Action in an IFTTT recipe.
Whether the Input is a buzzing story from Time or an incoming email, these inputs can be fed into a document or spreadsheet in your Google Drive account.
You can do the same thing with email, calendar events, and much more. Use IFTTT to turn Google Drive into an unbelievable data collection system that you can customize for your needs.
Inside of Google Drive, there are also many apps that you can add to your account. One of the more useful of those is an app called HelloFax that lets you send 5 free faxes a month, followed by a pay as you go plan – or other monthly subscription options.
For an individual or a small business, this may be more than enough. It’s ultra-simple to use. All you have to do is upload the files from your Drive account (it also works with Dropbox, Box, Evernote, and OneDrive).
Type in fax numbers (or email addresses), and your documents will get faxed immediately.
Mind mapping is one of the most popular brainstorming techniques for productivity experts. Activating MindMup puts mind mapping right inside your Google Drive account. You can add MindMup to Google Drive by clicking on Create, and then Connect more apps.
It’s a flexible tool that lets you create full mind maps that are easy to build, with an interface that isn’t complicated or cumbersome. Once you add it to Google Drive, it becomes yet another tool you can use as part of your entire Google Drive productivity toolbox.
Google Drive Offline
For ultimate productivity, you’ve got to do your work even when you don’t have internet access. Google Drive may be a cloud solution, but that doesn’t mean you can’t access all your files when you’re not online.
Google provides an “Offline” feature if you’re a Chrome user, that syncs the data in your Google Drive account to your computer. Log into your Google Drive account, click on “Settings” and under the gear icon and make sure that the Offline option is selected.
This allows you to make changes to any of those files while you’re offline, and all changes sync to the online copy once you’re reconnected to the internet.
Google Keep: What Is It?
By now you’ve surely heard of Evernote, Simplenote, OneNote, and dozens of other note-taking apps. Is there space for yet another note-taking tool?
The beauty of Google Keep is its usefulness despite its simplicity. Yes, it’s a quick and easy note-taking app, but there are a lot of hidden features that make it more than that.
- Speak to Google Keep on your smartphone and it’ll transcribe your words to text.
- Capture pictures or scan documents right to your Google Keep account.
- Share your notes and lists with others for easy collaboration.
- Color code your notes for better organization.
- Use the built-in search tool to find your notes, no matter how many you’ve created.
- Location based reminders pull up notes when you’re in a specific location.
Since your Google Keep account is in the cloud, you can access it from your phone, tablet or computer no matter where you are.
The Google Keep Browser App
The browser-based version of Google Keep is the simplest way to use Google Keep since you can install it as an add-on for most browsers.
Of course, you won’t always be sitting at your computer when you need to use it, which is why having it synced with your mobile devices is so useful.
The Google Keep Mobile App
The Google Keep mobile app earns its keep (pun intended).
The app lets you quickly create a note, a list, a voice memo (transcribed) or a photo snapshot with just one tap of the finger.
Everything you add while on the go will be available the next time you fire up your browser. That’s the beauty of storing your notes on the cloud. And if you have any Android wearables, the top ten items in your Google Keep app will sync up and display — all you have to do is swipe down to scroll down through your notes.
Google Calendar: Not Just for Appointments
What’s a productivity system without a calendar? Let’s face it, few companies do calendars better than Google. Google Calendar is not just an online calendar. It’s a phenomenon. An entire community of productivity enthusiasts who swear by the fact that Google Calendar apps, tools and tricks make them more productive people.
Google Calendar is deceivingly simple. It appears to be one calendar, but it can hold many different calendars for different needs. All you have to do is import additional calendars, and you can display them all (or filter out whatever you like) all in the space of this single calendar.
If your family has a birthday calendar and they’ve shared it with you, you can import that. If your client has a work calendar they’ve shared with you, you can import that. There’s a variety of free, public calendars out there, featuring things like sports schedules or national holidays, which you can import and display, integrated right into your Google Calendar.
If you want an advanced time management system, you’ll want to use something like GQueues. This is a popular time and project management tool, accessible anywhere you have web access.
For each task in a project, you can set a due date.
Wouldn’t it be sweet if that due date would automatically show up on your Google Calendar? Well, if you’re using the premium version of GQueues, you can do that! All you have to do is go into GQueues settings and click on the Calendar tab.
Here, find “Integrate with Google Calendar” and click the Activate button.
Now you’ll see your new GQueues imported calendar show up in Google Calendar.
It’s an automated and convenient way to track all your to-do tasks without having to worry about manually transferring those items into your calendar.
If you’re an online worker, or you have lots of friends from all over the world and you’re not sure when a good time might be to chat with them, the World Clock add-on in Google Calendar is a lifesaver.
To set it up, just go into Settings, click on World clock, and select Show world clock.
For your preferred time zones, click on Add Time Zone, and select the time zones you want to include in the world clock.
Those time zones will be displayed in the left menu of your calendar.
Now you’ll always know what time it is anywhere in the world!
Just because your Calendar is “in the cloud” doesn’t mean that you can’t get notifications on your desktop. In fact, that’s exactly what you can do with Google Calendar, and all you have to do is enable it. Just go to Settings, Event settings, and selection the notifications type that you want.
Now you’ll never forget another appointment because your computer will pop up a little note and play a gentle bell whenever you have a scheduled event about to start.
You will need to make sure to enable notifications whenever you set up a new event.
Trust me, this is one of the most effective ways to always be on time without having to depend on your faulty human memory.
The reminders appear right above the lower right part of your desktop (not blocking your workspace) and emit a gentle bell.
Google Calendar Mobile Client
You aren’t always at your desk when you need to see your schedule. People check their schedule more when they’re on the go than when they’re home. So it’s ultra-convenient to sync your Google Calendar with both iOS and Android.
When you can bring your calendar everywhere you go, and with the built-in notifications, you’ll never forget another meeting again!
Gmail: A Communication Powerhouse
Who could cover Google’s top tools without mentioning Google Gmail, one of the world’s most popular email services? Gmail is used both privately and by businesses for communications. As of July 2017, Gmail boasts 1.2 billion users, and that user base continues to grow. Millions of businesses use Gmail as the platform for their email communications. We love Google so much here at MakeUseOf that we offer both a free beginner’s guide, as well as a power user guide to the popular email service.
It doesn’t get much more ubiquitous than that.
One of the longest-running tools available with your Google account is Google Tasks. Tasks used to be an embedded feature in Gmail, but now you’ll find it as part of your Gmail account. Tasks comes up as a pop-up window, or you can open it in its own window by clicking the slanted arrow in the upper right corner of the pop-up.
The beauty of Google Tasks is how much is packed into such a small space. Click that list icon, and up pops your sublists — in other words, you can have a long list of lists to help you better organize every aspect of your life.
Best of all, they are all displayed in this little compact area inside your email account.
One of the things that makes Gmail so productive for many people is the “Canned Response” feature. While you’re composing any email, just click the dropdown arrow at the lower right part of the window, and choose Canned responses from the list.
There are three sections in the list: Insert, Save, and Delete. The insert section lets you paste the saved email template into your current composition window. Save and Delete are used to either save your currently composed email as a new template or to delete an existing template.
If you don’t want to overwrite an existing template, you can create a new one by clicking the New canned response… link.
The convenience of this can’t be understated, especially if you are a manager. Why retype entire emails when only about 5 to 10% of the content needs to change? Just save the template and fill in the areas that matter. This allows you to send people carefully written emails with all the information included, but still personalized for each individual person.
Google Calendar Integration
Of course, it wouldn’t be Google if top services weren’t integrated in some way. That’s true for Gmail and Calendar, which can pass information back and forth. In the direction from Gmail to Calendar, you can click on the More button at the top of your email inbox to either add the current email as a new task, or in the form of a new event in your Calendar.
Adding an email as an event will put the email subject line as the event title, and the email itself into the event notes.
Adding an email as a task will use the subject line as the task, and then includes a link to the email underneath the task listing.
Of course, you can go in the other direction from Calendar to email by adding email notifications to specific events, as mentioned in the Google Calendar section. These integrations between Calendar and Gmail help you to be efficient with your time and tasks.
IFTTT is one of the most powerful tools for integrating hundreds of external applications and internet resources with your Gmail account.
The variety of Triggers that are available in IFTTT for your Gmail account are impressive, and include:
- Any time a new email arrives in your Inbox
- Any time a new email arrives that has an attachment
- When an email arrives from a specific email address
- When you star an email in your inbox
- When you send a new email
- When you give an email a specific label
- When an email arrives that matches a particular filter “search” you define
As you can see, the IFTTT triggers are very specific. What you can do with those emails is just as varied. You can do things like:
- Add the email subject and contents to a spreadsheet in your Google Drive account
- Resend the email to an RSS feed
- Post the email to a blog with the subject as the title and the contents as the post body
- Create an Evernote entry with the email contents
- Create a Facebook post based on the email contents
- Post a message to a channel in slack
- So much more…
It isn’t only a trigger you can create using Gmail in IFTTT. You can also perform various actions with your Gmail using IFTTT. Depending on what trigger you choose, you can trigger various emails. For example, when you post to Facebook, you can use IFTTT to send an email to specific recipients containing the message and post details in the email.
You can trigger an email based on trending Time magazine stories so you can always stay on top of the latest news stories.
You can trigger an email when you post a Tweet containing a specific hashtag.
These are only a few examples of the many impressive things you can do by using IFTTT to integrate outside services with your Gmail account.
Gmail Mobile Apps
The mobile app is about as simple and easy to use as any, but it also offers the ability to monitor and manage multiple email accounts, which is an absolute must for anyone who is active online, where multiple email accounts have become the norm. You can easily switch configured email accounts by tapping the top left corner of the screen and choosing the other email account.
The ability to answer emails on the go is an absolute necessity these days; going a day without responding to someone’s email to you is just unacceptable.
Since some of your most personal and private communications can go through the Gmail account, make sure that it’s as secure as possible.
Verify critical Gmail Settings immediately to make sure you’re as protected as possible. At the onset have at least one alternative email address configured, and at least one mobile phone number added. With these two things, you’re guaranteed to never get locked out of your account, because Google can email or SMS your new password to you.
You set up your recovery phone number and email in the Settings section of your Google Account, under Sign-in and Security.
You’ll also notice in the Password & sign-in method section that there’s a field for 2-Step Verification. If your status is “Off”, you may want to consider enabling it for ultimate security.
How does 2-Step Verification work?
2-Step Verification goes beyond a simple password login. It requires that you type in a special code that is displayed on your phone. You can choose to have this happen every single time you log into your account, or only once whenever you sign into a new computer or mobile device.
2-step verification is more secure than just a password login, because even if hackers or anyone else happens to steal your account password, they won’t be able to access your account unless they’ve also managed to steal your phone, which isn’t very likely.
If email security is high on your priority list, read James’ list of the latest email security threats every user should know about.
Making Use of Google Tools
Google Search, Drive, Keep, Calendar and Email make up the five Google tools with some of the highest user rates of all Google’s offerings. So, it’s easy to understand why Google would want to give you features that help people make the most of those tools. Even if you’ve used these tools and services for years, there are always new things to learn about them.
The tips and tricks offered in this guide are meant to help you make better use of these tools so that hopefully they’ll save you some time and make you a bit more productive. After all, isn’t that the whole point of using productivity tools?
Continue your exploration of Google tools by searching our site for the hundreds of guides and articles on the topic. You’ll find articles and guides on working with Google Docs, organizing with Google Sheets, and so many more unique topics throughout the site.
Are there any other tips that you’re aware of for any of the five main Google tools listed above? Share your own tips and tricks in the comments section below!
Image Credit: syaheir/DepositPhotos