Gmail Productivity Training: Amar's Top Tips (guest blog by Amar Raol)

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    Hi all,

    I hope that your July is being kind to you so far - wherever in the world you are. I just got back from a sunny break in beautiful Sardinia - highly recommended!

    Today I am very happy to share with you the next in the series of guest blog posts - this time from my fantastic colleague Amar who runs the North American Change and Transformation team.

    Over to you Amar.


    Hello everyone. My name is Amar Raol and I lead Google’s North America Transformation and Change Management team.  Kim asked me to write a post for the Change Management blog so I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you some tips and talking points that you might be able to use to help the employees at your organisation to get the most out of Gmail.


    The Challenge

    How many of you have been in a situation where you’ve had users who’ve struggled to  understand the value Gmail brings over their old email client? Maybe they’ve been so used to working in a previous tool they just don’t feel Gmail is ready for work?  Or maybe they’ve only used Gmail for personal use and can’t imagine getting serious work done?  Based on my experience the one time you do run into a user such as this, he/she is an executive who hasn’t had time to take deep dive training. Does this sound familiar?

    Certainly I’ve run into such instances and the resulting conversations have had some common elements I’m sure will resonate with your own staff. Especially with executives where you only have 15-20 mins of their time, it helps to focus on the value of Gmail and not try to cover ALL the features and how-tos. 

    My suggested approach

    Below are my tips for how I suggest you approach this type of situation. These tips are based on the premise that you only have 15-20 mins to spend with someone. You can’t teach them everything in such a short space of time, so focus on a few top tips to them get up and running and be the most productive they can be on Gmail.

    Start by sympathising and empathising with the user.  In short…”If you are like me you treat your inbox like a To-Do list with your unread messages acting as task items.  And you probably get dozens (if not hundreds) of emails each day that you need to get through.”

    Then, it is time  to show Gmail's value.  “Gmail (and the new 'Google Inbox' for that matter) is the only tool designed from the ground up specifically for someone who gets hundreds of emails each day and needs to get through them quickly.”

    And it’s certainly true.  Our engineers have worked very hard to identify with the user and build features from the ground up for the best and fastest way to get through your day. Below are the top features I’ve found that resonate best and for which we get the most questions from busy executives and those coming off traditional systems:

    1. Search vs. Sort

    Start with the #1 question we often get…”How do I sort my mail”? Of course when you graduate from a 150 mb mailbox to a 30 GB or even unlimited mailbox, sorting your mail to find stuff just can’t possibly work.  Instead, we’ve built powerful search that’s super fast. 

    Take the user through the basics of search, not everything, but just the basics.  The most common issue is that folks are looking for an email from someone, much like they’d sort with the FROM field in the past and scroll. The user has probably tried to search by typing in someone’s name or email directly.  But the results of just typing in a name in the search box gives you everything...and I mean everything...that user was a part of.  This can demoralize and confuse.

    Instead, step users through the most common search scenario and show the value of chaining search terms.  For example. Start by searching for an email FROM a colleague.  Narrow it down by adding those that were only sent to the them directly and contains a keyword. 

    For example to find all the emails sent to me from John that contain the word 'proposal' you'd type the following into the search box: TO:me proposal

    This simple search will quickly get the point across about the 'FROM:' which is much like sorting on the “from” field and chaining search terms to refine your content. Immensely powerful for busy executives. Leave them a print out of the advanced search terms here for reference.

    2. Conversation Threads

    Conversation threads provide a fast efficient way to review multiple related messages in one view.  Again, Google engineers pioneered this view to cut back from the linear flow of moving through your email and having to run into messages in a thread multiple time in your mailbox, often pages away.  Explaining the reasoning and value behind this feature can often get buy-in from folks who really have a need to power through their day.

    I’ve seen some users find this view confusing or at least unfamiliar.  Again, I sympathize with that change.  But rather than pointing them straight to the setting to turn it off...ask them to try it out if only for two weeks.  For those who really embrace it, I can’t imagine email another way.

    3. Priority Inbox

    Priority inbox, again, is yet another feature that helps you focus on what’s important and not have to linearly go through each message in your mailbox.  Here though, I like to focus on the value of customization. 

    Before going Google if you were to walk around the office you’d notice everyone screen had the same mailbox view with one one variation, whether they preferred a horizontal split or vertical split (which by the way Google can support as well with a lab). But with Google you’ll notice everyone’s screens look very different.  They’ve customized their view of their mailbox to fit their specific workflow.

    This is where 'Priority inbox' comes in real handy.  You can set it to show all your unread messages first.  If you are like me, I treat all my unread messages as a To-Do item and rather than having them buried in between other read messages this grouping helps me focus. I’ve also set my first grouping to be 'Important and Unread' and often encourage folks I’ve helped to do the same.  To their delight, their unread (and important) count drops by hundreds of messages to something more manageable.  Now they can take in those newsletters and distro lists on their own time and focus on what’s important during their busy day.

    4. Keyboard Shortcuts

    I also often find these users are not leveraging the tool to it’s full capacity and that can sometimes lead to frustration.  Have you had anyone complain it takes them longer to do things in Gmail?  There are certainly many options to speed your workflow and Keyboard shortcuts is one.

    I highly recommend encouraging all your users to enable keyboard shortcuts (found within Gmail settings) and show them the following simple shortcuts to increase their efficiency in their inbox:

    • C - to compose a new message
    • CTRL-ENTER(PC) or CMD-ENTER (Mac) - to send a message from inside the compose window
    • E - to archive a message away
    • SHIFT-U - to mark a message unread

    The combination of the later two is super helpful to show users as it will help them quickly browse through their mail without having to click around. You can find all the keyboard shortcuts here and even by clicking SHIFT-? in Gmail.

    Here is a link to a document containing the above tips that you might find a useful resource.


    Bottom line, I like to train users based on how I would want to set up my mailbox as if I were just entering a new account and wanted to get setup to be the most productive.  It’s those highly customizable and engineered for productivity features that busy executives and reluctant users will find most valuable. Lastly don’t forget about the great training resourses that are available for all your users on

    I’d love to hear if anyone else has come across any ‘must show’ Gmail tips or shortcuts that you’ve found useful.