Email Management, Microsoft Office, Productivity, Technology

Set Up Gmail or Outlook to Look Like the Other

If you recently switched from using Gmail or MS Outlook and miss some of the features and layout of your familiar email application, there are some things that you can do to make Gmail look more like Outlook (or make Outlook look more like Gmail). The interfaces to these two popular email programs are vastly different, but there are lots of ways to tweak them to make them look and function in a way that works for you.

Make Gmail Look Like Outlook

If you switched from Microsoft Outlook to Gmail, or you use Outlook at work and wish Gmail for your personal email looked and functioned more like Outlook there are several settings you can apply to make Gmail more like Outlook. Any time you make a change don’t forget to click “Save Changes”!

Turn Off Threading

Gmail’s default is to “thread” conversations by subject. However, this can get confusing because if the thread is long and has people coming in and out of the conversation it can be difficult to see sort out what is going on. Also, messages are threaded with the oldest at the top, instead of the newest – directly opposite of the Outlook experience where new messages appear before older ones.

To turn off email threading in Gmail click on the gear icon at the top right to see the Quick Settings scroll all the way to the bottom and uncheck “conversation view”. Now each message will appear separately, and you will see icons similar to Outlook to indicate if you have replied to a message or forwarded it.

If you don’t mind threading but wish that the messages appeared with the newest at the top you can add the Gmail Reverse Conversation browser extension.

Turn Off Categories

By default, Gmail applies Categories to email that show across the top of your inbox. These categories include Social, Updates, Promotions and Forums. If you don’t want to have Gmail automatically sort your inbox by these categories, you can turn them off. Go to the gear icon on the right side and click “See All Settings”. Then go to Inbox and uncheck the boxes next to the Categories.

While your inbox will no longer be subdivided by automated categories, if you want to take advantage of the feature you can still look on the left rail and expand the Categories to see emails that have been identified as fitting into the categories.

Turn On Priority Inbox

If you are a fan of the browser version of MS Outlook through the MS 365 subscription and you like the Focused Inbox you can turn on Gmail’s “Priority” inbox. Click on the gear icon at the top right to see the Quick Settings, scroll down and under Inbox Type choose “Priority Inbox”. Your inbox will be resorted to default to showing “Important and Unread”, followed by “Starred”, and then “Everything Else”. You can customize this by clicking on the “Customize” button. One interesting option at the bottom lets you override filters to include important messages in the inbox that may have been filtered out (filters are the equivalent of Rules in Outlook).

Enable Preview Pane

If you are a fan of the MS Outlook Preview Pane you can turn that on in Gmail. Click on the gear icon at the top right to see the Quick Settings and under Reading Pane scroll through the options and choose whether you have the Pane open to the right of the inbox or below the inbox. You can then toggle the Preview Pane on and off once you have enabled it.

Use Offline Data

One benefit of MS Outlook is that it is software that is installed on your computer. If you lose access to the Internet, you can still read your email. Gmail, on the other hand, is only available when you are connected to the Internet. You can set up Offline to give you access to reading and reviewing email that has already come in, though you will need some room on the hard drive of your computer. Go to the gear icon, click to see All Settings. Go to the Offline tab and check the “Enable offline mail” box. You can adjust how long email syncs, whether to download attachments and what to do if you log out of your Google account.

Show Labels Instead of Icons

The Ribbon in the Microsoft Office suite shows icons and labels for all the tools at your disposal. Depending on the size of your screen some of the labels will truncate, but you can mouse over them to see the label. In Gmail you see either icons or labels, though when you mouse over an icon it provides the label. If you have plenty of screen real estate and prefer just labels click on the gear icon, choose “All Settings” and in the General tab scroll down to Button Labels and choose “Text” instead of the default “Icons”.

Move Emails to Labels Like They Are Folders

Microsoft Outlook lets you organize your emails and keep a clean inbox by using folders. You can drag email to the appropriate folder to keep a clean inbox. Gmail uses labels, which are a little different in that you can apply multiple labels to an email and then search for emails based on the label. However, applying a label will not move an email out of your inbox. To do that you will need to open an email and select “Move to” and move the email to a label, which appear on the left rail. You can create labels on the fly as appropriate by choosing “create new” when you get the options for “Move To”. Select the email(s) you want to move by click on the box to the left of the email and then choose “Move to” and select the label. You can set up filters which function like Microsoft rules to move emails to a certain label, and you can choose whether the email skips the inbox or not. Filters in Gmail are as powerful as Outlook rules, so it is worth the time to explore all the options.

Peek At Your Calendar

One frustrating difference between MS Outlook and Gmail was that in Outlook you can easily switch to your calendar, contacts and tasks. In Gmail you had to open a new tab to access your calendar. But no longer! Look in the far right column and click on the little calendar icon (or Keep, Tasks, or Contacts) to peek at your calendar. You can choose to view your day or schedule and show multiple calendars (if you use multiple calendars). You can easily expand the calendar into a new tab from the peek view.

There are also lots of ways to create an event or appointment in your Google calendar from an email in your inbox.

There are a lot more options to make Gmail look and function like MS Outlook, so don’t be hesitant to play with settings.

Make Outlook Look Like Gmail

Moving from law school to a law firm, many associates are unfamiliar with MS Outlook. Or, lawyers moving from a solo practice to a larger firm or corporate counsel position may find the move from Gmail to Outlook a quite different, and frustrating change. There are some things you can do to make MS Outlook a little more like Gmail. If your firm has a Microsoft 365 subscription you may find that unless there is a legacy plugin or some other reason that requires you to use the installed Outlook software the browser interface for Outlook will be a much more familiar experience.

Add Conversation View

If you prefer threaded conversations the way Gmail arranges email you can change the settings in Outlook to show your email in this configuration as well. Go to the View tab and in the Messages group click the box for “Show as Conversations”. You can choose to show threaded conversations in just a specific folder, or all of your folders. Then in the Conversation settings you can choose to show emails from other folders (handy!). You will have to double click a conversation to expand it. The conversation view is shown in order from newest to oldest and it shows the folder where the email is stored if it isn’t the inbox.

Remove the Reading Pane and Task Bar

By default, Gmail doesn’t have the Reading Pane turned on. If you find that these additional columns are distracting or unnecessary you can turn them off. In MS Outlook go to the View tab and in the Layout group toggle off the Reading Pane or the To-Do Bar. Similarly, if you don’t like the Message Preview look in the Arrangement group and turn that off too.

Use Categories for Labels

Gmail labels are great because you can apply multiple labels to a single email. MS Outlook has a function similar to labels called Categories. Categories are very useful and can let you add more intelligence to an email. Unlike Gmail, categories are completely different from folders, so you can add categories to an email and store the email in a folder that has a completely different name. Here are complete instructions on how to leverage this powerful feature.

Try Focus Inbox

If you like Gmail’s priority inbox you can try Outlook’s Focused Inbox, which is the default in the browser version of Outlook. In the View tab toggle on Show Focused Inbox. Once you do this you will see two tabs at the top of your inbox – one Focused and “Other”. You can move between the two.

Moving from one email interface to another, especially if you have great familiarity with a different product, can be frustrating.  Take some time to go through settings and dig into tutorials. Both Gmail and Outlook have a lot to offer to help you stay on top of your emails!