As a professional writer about all things storage and organization, you might imagine that I’m extremely organized. You might imagine that, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. In fact, I’m a mess. However, over the course of the last several years, Google has made my life significantly more organized, and I want to take a stab at explaining how, so that maybe you can learn something that will help you, too.
Warning: Integration Can Be Stressful at First!
I use a wide variety of Google products and services, and it’s taken me a decade to get to where I am today. If you decide that you want to completely overhaul your workflow, be my guest, but the growing pains will be severe! Instead, try a piecemeal approach. Find something that seems to make sense for you and go from there. There’s no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all solution.
Google search: the gateway drug
Unless you’re still clinging to Lycos, or your browser came with Bing or Yahoo as the default, odds are that you’re already using Google for your regular searching. One of the ways that Google improves the web experience is by personalizing your results, based on previous searches, and other data pulled from your Google account. Some people find this to be an invasion of privacy, but I just consider it convenient. I know that maybe I should care more about the privacy issues, but realistically, big companies already know more about me than my wife and parents combined, so I figure that I might as well get something back for it!
Gmail: never lose an email again
This is the real gateway drug into Google. Gmail really does make email incredibly easy, but it took me a long time to see the real power of it. One important feature is archiving. By archiving your email, you store it away so it doesn’t clutter up your inbox. It’s not deleted, but it’s not in the way. Considering that you get 15GB of storage for free, you can save a lot of email. Another feature is labels. Think of labels as flexible folders. You can label an email with as many tags as you like, so you don’t have to make the decision between storing an email as either “vacation” or “family.” Label it with both and call it a day.
Google Calendar: sometimes the name tells you everything you need to know
In my eyes, Google Calendar works precisely the way a calendar should. It’s simple, flexible, and powerful at the same time. If you can access the internet, you can access Calendar, and if you have an Android phone (see below), it’s built right in. In addition to the standard electronic calendar features – setting events to repeat; creating separate calendars for work, home, kids, or whomever; offering reminders via email, text, or popup at the interval of your choice – it also adds some features that only Google can offer so seamlessly. For instance, I have a very exciting conference call every other Wednesday afternoon. One member of the team created an event on his calendar and shared it with each of us. When the phone number changed, he put that in a note and without doing a thing, I had the new number. When we changed the time one week, my calendar updated. Plus, if you use the “where” box when you make the event, it syncs to… well… keep reading to see the cool tricks Google can pull off. (Can’t wait? Skip down to the section on Google Now.)
Google Maps: it’s like Mapquest, except better
This should tell you everything you need to know about Google Maps. Apple tried to replace Maps on the iPhone with its own mapping software and iPhone users – iPhone users! – freaked out and demanded the return of Google Maps. That’s like Red Sox fans demanding that all World Series games be played in Yankee Stadium because Fenway doesn’t get the job done. Google Maps integrates smoothly with many different parts of the Google universe, from Android to Gmail to calendar to Now. You can even jump directly into Google Earth and see surprisingly impressive close-ups of the world around you.
Google Drive: like Dropbox, but better
Dropbox pioneered the concept of a cloud storage, accessible from anywhere. Drive has taken it to the next level. Drive is more than just cloud storage. First, it functions as a platform for Docs, Sheets, Presentation, Forms, and more (we’ll get to these next!). In other words, you can conceivably get away with replacing Office with Google Drive. Second, you can place an automatically syncing folder on any computer you use, at home or at work, so you can use it the exact same way that you use a regular folder. Third, you get 15GB of free storage. Yes, you’re sharing it with Gmail, but it took me nearly ten years to fill it, anyway, and there’s a loophole that we’ll get to in the next section. Basically, using Drive is like towing your personal self-storage unit around behind you everywhere you go, but in a much, much lighter format.
Google Docs, Sheets, Presentation, and Forms: Office, but $500 cheaper
Microsoft Office is a powerhouse and has been for years. If there’s something that Office Pro can’t do, then for a lot of people, there’s no reason to do it. But what if you could do almost everything Office can do, but without paying a dime? Well, you can. If you think of Docs as MS Word, Sheets as Excel, Presentation as PowerPoint, and Forms as a bonus, then you’re on the right track. Aside from price, why bother? First of all, you always have the most current version. Since it lives in the cloud, you never have to upgrade – it’s done automatically and seamlessly. Second, there are no compatibility concerns. If you can use the internet, you can use Google Docs. Third, it syncs easily to your mobile phone. Fourth, documents created using Google’s platform don’t count against your 15GB cap. In other words, you have unlimited storage if you’re using Google’s platforms.
Google+: seriously… stop laughing… guys… come on…
Google+ (pronounced “Google Plus”) originally appeared to be Google’s newest attempt to take on Facebook and Twitter. They had tried and failed before (anyone miss Google Buzz?), but this time it seemed to be taking off. But then everyone got bored and the only people left were Google+ wonks who talked mostly about Google+. I should know. I was there, man… I was there. But here’s how I started using Google+ to my advantage: I use it as free online photo storage. If you make a circle sharing things with no one but yourself, you can share as many photos as you like for free. Plus (pun intended), you can automatically backup photos and videos from an Android phone and never lose a picture again. And you can talk about Google+, I guess.
Android: mobile perfection
If you want a phone that pulls everything together almost seamlessly, you need an Android-based phone. iPhones have a lot of great features, but for flexibility and integration, it’s tough to beat Android. The great thing about an Android phone is that you log in using your Google account, and everything just appears. Your contacts from Gmail, your documents from Drive, your pictures on Google+, and everything else… it’s just there.
Chrome: the tie that binds
Download Chrome and never have an outdated browser again. Whenever it opens, it updates to the newest version automatically. By logging in, you can sync all of your bookmarks, passwords, and search history. If you read an article on your computer at work, you can open it at home through Chrome. It’s way, way more than just a browser. You can also download extensions and apps that greatly expand the capability of the browser. By the way, there is a mobile version of Chrome that has all of the capabilities of the desktop version, which makes life easier yet again.
Chromebook: the pinnacle of Googleness (Googletude?) (Googleocity?)
Chromebook pulls it all together in one slick package. What is Chromebook? Chromebook is a complete computer running Google Chrome as its operating system. It is bare bones, but expandable. It’s updated automatically. It’s everything Googley in one place. The fastest computer I own is my Chromebook. My Chromebook has the best battery life. It has the highest resolution screen. It’s the lightest. It looks the best. And when I log in, I just use my Google account and everything was there. When I logged in to a different Chromebook, everything was there. When I log out, it’s all gone, because it’s stored in the cloud. I don’t have to worry about anything. Chrome has it covered.
Google Now: getting better all the time
Google Now is Google’s answer to Apple’s Siri. Now pulls data from web searches and browsing history, Gmail and Google Maps, location history and your calendar. It puts everything together in a crazy, mind-reading app that I can no longer live without. It gives me the weather, sports scores for teams that I care about, the time my flight leaves, updates to news stories that I’m following, reminders about TV shows I enjoy, calendar reminders, and it even helps me remember where I parked my car. Granted, this last feature is in need of improvement, but Now does so many other things that you won’t care.
For instance, if you have a doctor’s appointment, Google Now can give you a reminder that includes letting you know when you should leave, taking into account current traffic, and it will give you directions there. In addition, it includes voice recognition software that allows it to act as your personal assistant. My wife commented the other day that every time she turns around, I’m talking to my phone. She’s right. I talk to it all the time. From a home screen or search screen, just say, “ok google,” and give it directions. You can have it give you reminders at a certain time or when you’re at a certain location, which is a huge bonus. Here’s how it works: I said “ok google” and waited for the beep. Then, I said, “remind me to buy a zoysia plugger next time I’m at Home Depot.” Sure enough, when I got to Home Depot a couple weeks later, I got the message.
And for good measure, you can set it up so that you get your reminders on any computer, tablet, or phone that you log into Chrome on. Google Now is the ultimate Google app, seamlessly bringing Google’s wide-ranging apps together.
So, the title of this article is, “How Google Saved My Life.” That’s a bold statement, but one that I can stand by. Google helps me find the information I need, tracks my appointments, reminds me what I need to do, gives me directions, allows me to sync documents across all platforms, and more. Basically, Google helps me keep everything together.