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Productivity - 10 min READ

20 Google Drive hacks to help you work smarter (not harder)

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Copper Staff

Contributors from members of the Copper team

In business, there are just some tools you can’t live without. And a platform to safely store and organize your files is definitely one of them.

You could store your documents on a local drive, but that’s really only possible if you’re a solopreneur. Even then, is that a smart move?

There are a number of cloud storage services you could take advantage of, so why risk letting a damaged hard drive or busted computer obliterate everything you’ve worked on?

With Google Drive, you get not only a safe directory to store your files, but also a place where you and your teammates can create, edit, and collaborate on content.

Let's get into the list of Google Drive hacks.

Google Drive hacks for Gmail

There are certain things you can do with Google Drive if you have Gmail and others if you have G Suite, but first let’s look at some tips for Gmail users.

1. Save any file type to Google Drive 

The first thing you have to know about Google Drive is that you can upload anything there. Let’s start with the basics:

You can upload files and folders.

While the “+ New” icon in the top-left corner of Drive lets you sort through your local drive for files or folders to upload, it’s much easier to just drag and drop them.

It's not just docs and spreadsheets either. You can upload anything from GIFs to MP4s to even Sketch files to Google Drive:

You can upload entire folders too:

As you can see, Google Drive will accept any file type, too:

Whether you’re storing image and video files, native design files, official PDF documents, or something else, Google Drive gives you one place to collect all your content.

2. Create all kinds of content

Google Drive isn’t just a place to store files or folders from outside. You can create content right from within the platform, too.

Most people are probably aware that you can create:

  • Docs (word processing)
  • Sheets (spreadsheets)
  • Slides (presentations)

Those are the standard content types anyone in business would use on a regular basis. And all it takes is a click on the type of content you want to create to get started.

(If you want to learn about Google Docs-specific tips, check out this post.)

Now, let’s talk about other little-known kinds of content you can create within Google Drive.

Google Forms, for instance, is a fantastic tool if you ever need to collect questionnaire responses from clients, users, or survey respondents.

Google Drawings could be useful if you like to design your own visuals. For instance, you could use it to design charts and graphs to accompany a report.

There are other kinds of content available too, though they aren’t the kinds of things Google users would commonly use (like building your own map or website). Just know that they’re here in case you need them.

3. Use professional templates to save time

Find yourself creating the same kind of content over and over again? Or maybe you don’t know where to get started?

You should use Google Drive’s templates.

Most of the time, you’re going to click the “+ New” button to open a brand new document. In that case, just click on the type of file or folder you want to create.

However, if you want to use a pre-made and professionally designed template, click the right-arrow next to the file type and choose “From a template.”

Think about how many times you’ve tried to hack your own letterhead or brochure design. These templates will save you a lot of time:

There are templates for:

  • Letters
  • Proposals
  • Meeting notes
  • Email newsletters
  • Brochures
  • Terms of use
  • Job offer letters
  • Statements of work
  • Reports
  • And much more

Before you create a brand new document, be sure to check the templates archive first.

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4. Organize with folders

Rather than leave your files sitting loose inside Google Drive, organize your workspace with clearly labeled folders.

For instance, this is the same folder you saw earlier. But now, all you see are folders:

If you’d like to work on a bigger scale — say, if you want to move files from “Design Assets” to “Business Docs” — just open your file structure on the sidebar. Drag-and-drop is allowed here, too, which makes it easy to get files from one folder to another:

Don’t worry if you accidentally move a file or folder into the wrong area of Google Drive. An “Undo” function will appear for a few seconds after you make a move.

And if you miss your chance, don’t immediately rush to your folder structure to dig out the misplaced file. There are keyboard shortcuts for that.

Speaking of which...

5. Use shortcuts to move quickly around your files

Google has a bunch of shortcuts you can use to quickly navigate around Drive:

Take the example from #4. Let’s say you moved a file to the wrong folder and missed the window to click the “Undo” button. That’s fine! Command + Z will undo the move for you.

The Create and Search shortcuts are quite helpful and you’ll get a lot of use out of them, too.

For instance, you don’t need your cursor to create a new folder. Just hit Shift + F. You’ll use similar commands to create new Docs, Sheets, and so on.

As you add more content to your folders, the Search shortcut will really come in handy. All it takes is a stroke of the “/” button to open your search bar for typing.

6. Check the history if you don’t know what changed 

As you allow more people access to your Google Drive, you may run into issues where new files show up and you have no idea where they came from. Or you might see that someone updated something, but no one will ‘fess up to who made the change.

Google Drive hides your folders’ histories under the “i” icon on the right side of the app.

This will tell you all of the recent activity: which files or folders were affected, when the changes took place, and who did them.

7. Keep your drive clean

Like other storage tools, Google puts a cap on how much storage you can use before it starts charging you, so keep an eye on this. Your usage is in the bottom-left corner of the app:

It’s easy to let files pile up in Google Drive, especially as clients and employees come and go.

Rather than wait until Google warns you that it’s time to pay up, schedule time every month to clean up your folders.

You could go one-by-one through your files and folders, ditching the stuff that’s old and doesn’t need to be saved. Or you can go to Settings (under the gear widget) and have a look at what’s taking up space:

The first setting under “General” tells you how much storage you’ve used. You can either “Upgrade storage” to a paid plan or “View items taking up storage” to clean up your drive.

Pro-tip: Website backups and zipped folders of oversized images are common culprits that clog up Google Drives.

To delete the ones you don’t need, you could right-click on each one and click “Remove.” Or…

8. Take action on multiple files at once

Let’s say you realize you have too many files that need to be deleted. Google lets you hold down the Control or Command key to select multiple ones. Or you can drag your mouse along the list, highlighting a group of files next to one another.

Once you’ve made your selection, right-click over the highlighted area and choose “Remove."

As you can see in this screenshot, there’s a lot you can do with the bulk selector.

Share is a good option if you want to hand-pick which files users have access to and you don’t want them to see the entire folder and its contents.

Move to is helpful if you don’t feel like opening your file structure on the left and dragging the selected files into the target folder. Instead, just choose your target from the list that appears.

You might also want to use Download if you need hard copies of the documents to email. Then again, Google makes it easy to share direct links to content, so there shouldn’t be much of a need for that. (More on that below.)

9. Empty the trash

When you’re doing your monthly cleanup of files, don’t forget to empty out the Trash bin:

It works the same way other folders work. You can delete files one-by-one or you can select multiple ones to delete.

You’ll also see a new “Empty Trash” button appear above the list:

Click on it to immediately clear out your trashed files and open up space on your drive.

10. Quick-share folders and files with others

There’s a feature that lets you give others access to your files for the sake of collaboration and project delivery. There are two places where you’ll find it.

The first is in the top breadcrumbs folder structure, the menu path that sits at the top of your list.

In this case, your breadcrumbs take you from the top-level My Drive folder and branch out to Sample Folder. The more folders you open, the longer the trail becomes, which is why breadcrumbs are so helpful in navigating Google Drive:

Hover over the name of the folder you want to copy, click the down arrow, and the share options will appear (along with other quick-edit options seen here). This also works if you're clicking on individual folder names that are inside this main folder.

Hit “Get shareable link," which should pop open this message:

You can toggle link sharing on or off here, or you can copy the URL and share the folder or document with anyone that you want to give view-only access to.

This is best for sharing documents you want to review with clients or team members, but that you don’t want them to be able to change.

“Share” gives you more control over who you share with and what sort of content management rights they get:

By default, shared Google Drive content can be viewed by anyone who has the link. If that’s all you want to do, use the “Get shareable link option.”

If you want to allow editing rights, click on “Anyone with the link can view” and choose the “edit” option. This allows users to not only edit the file, but manage the folder and file structures as well.

You can copy the “edit” link and send it by email to those you want to share your content with. This is a good option if you need to provide them with context or instructions for what you’re sharing.

If the context is already clear, then just add their email addresses to the field below “People” and click “Done.” Google will take care of emailing to let them know they have access.

11. Control user access

If at any time you want to change who has access to your Google Drive content or what they can do with it, adjust the settings through the “Share” feature:

Notice how under “People” there is a list of users that this folder has been shared with? Clicked on where it says “Shared with…”.

Within Sharing settings, you have the ability to:

  • Change the owner of a folder or file (say, if you’re handing a project off to someone else).
  • Change from edit to view, and vice versa (for when their role changes).
  • Remove them entirely by clicking the “x” next to their name (for when someone leaves the team or if someone was added by mistake).

Once you click “Done,” the access privileges will be updated.

12. Conduct more specific searches

As your Google Drive grows, it might become difficult to find the folders or files you’re looking for. Drive’s search function will help.

Basic search only allows you to locate certain words in files or on images. You could narrow down the options slightly by choosing the file type (if you remember what it is)...

But to get the most out of Google Drive searches and locate files more quickly, use “More search tools” or click on the down-arrow on the right side of the search bar.

You’ll unlock advanced search capabilities here:

This is helpful for not only quickly locating files you’re struggling to find, but also pulling up a list of very specific results.

For instance, you'd be able to look for only Docs that are owned by you and that were created after April 13.

Pro-tip: If you’re using Google Drive to collaborate with others, you could also use the “Follow up” feature to locate only the files that needed your attention.

13. Turn on notifications so you don’t miss anything important

Want to know if someone added a new file, made updates, or left a comment for you? Google Drive has a few notification options:

  1. Email
  2. Slack notifications
  3. Browser push notifications

By default, email notifications are enabled, but you can check any of the other options to enable them.

Just keep in mind that you have to have Slack set up through your apps in order to activate this option.

Also, if you want push notifications, they must be enabled in the browser first.

With browser notifications, you’ll be asked which ones you want to receive.

Considering push notifications will interrupt you as you work in the browser, it’s probably a good idea to only allow the most urgent and necessary communications to come through that way.

14. Protect your files with Backup and Sync

For Gmail users, you have access to something called Backup and Sync in your Settings menu:

Once installed, this desktop application enables you to save copies of files stored on your local drive, camera, and USB to Google Drive.

You can also automate which folders you want to continuously back up to your Google Drive. Once this is set up and your first backup is complete, the Backups folder will start to fill up:

You can also use Backup and Sync to copy your Google Drive folders to your hard drive, but if you’d rather not sync your entire drive to the computer, that’s fine too. Just select “Sync only these folders” and choose the ones you need.

15. Access your files even when you’re offline

Think about the last time you traveled for work and how frustrating it was to try to get stuff done with spotty reception.

By combining Google Drive’s hard drive sync feature with its “Offline” setting, you can continue to work on your documents no matter how bad the wifi connection is.

You can quickly activate offline mode from the General Settings tab:

Just remember to turn it off when you get wifi, so your desktop work can be synced to the cloud again.

16. Use Google Drive on your phone to work offline

The Google Drive app is another way to continue working even when you’re offline.

With the app, you have access to your entire drive — not just your own folders, but ones shared with you, too.

That said, you probably won’t want to use it to create content from your smartphone or tablet. It would just be too tedious of a process unless you’re typing out a short list or using voice-to-type dictation. Lengthier pages are best written with a full physical keyboard.

Instead, you’re best off using Drive on your phone to review and edit stuff or reorganize your files while you’re out and about.

It's also a good idea to have it installed so you can easily save files captured on your smartphone to Google Drive. That’s probably the main reason why “Use Camera” is one of the options in the mobile app:

Think of it like a scanner you can take on the go with you. Copy someone’s business card, take a snap of the restaurant you’re meeting a client at, or record video from your company’s event.

Then, upload your new photos directly to Google Drive. You can deal with the files when you’re at a computer (or you can send them to your team to handle next steps).

17. Do more with your Google Drive documents with Apps

There are some parts of Google that don’t need to be integrated with external apps.

Google Calendar, for example, doesn’t need to integrate with many apps, aside from conferencing software (for auto-scheduling events in virtual rooms) and your CRM (to book appointments with prospects).

Google Drive, on the other hand, gets so much better with integrations.

To access Google Drive’s apps, go to your Settings and locate the “Manage Apps” tab:

As you can see, there are already a few apps installed to streamline work between Google and other platforms.

By clicking on “Connect more apps,” you open up that functionality even further:

There are hundreds of apps you can connect to Drive, so your best bet is to do a search for the kind of functionality you’re looking for to narrow down the results.

When it comes to creating and managing documents, that probably means you’d benefit most from apps that:

If you can find apps that also connect to the rest of your tech stack, like a CRM, then there are opportunities to automate even more tasks and streamline your workflow further.

(For example, Zapier also integrates with Copper.)

Google Drive hacks for G Suite

Now, let's get into a few Google Drive hacks for G Suite users.

18. Create a team drive

With Gmail, you can share parts of your drive with others and you can receive access to theirs as well.

Because G Suite is built for teams, though, you gain the ability to create an entire drive that your team has access to. To do this, click on “Shared Drive” in the sidebar and this will appear:

As you can imagine, this is a whole lot easier than trying to share a bunch of individual folders and files with team members.

When your Team Drive is created, your team instantly gets access to everything. Just make sure you assign each team member the right role:

The Manager would be someone like you or your project manager who should have access to everything. The Content Manager should be someone like an editor. Contributors would be your writers and admins. And Commenter and Viewer roles would be perfect for clients.

Don’t forget to explore other new settings for your shared drive, too:

For instance, you can change the look of the drive with a new theme. You can also send emails right from within Google Drive to all of your members at once.

19. Create a Priority workspace just for you

Another unique feature to G Suite is that you can create what’s known as a “Priority” workspace:

It allows you to create personal workspaces for yourself. If you have tasks that only you are working on or should see, this is the place to do it.

It also prioritizes the files you use most often so you don’t have to go searching for them in a maze of folders.

20. Protect your files with Drive File Stream

Backups are handled differently in G Suite than they are in Gmail. With Gmail, you have Backup and Sync. With G Suite, you have Drive File Stream:

Both backup tools provide similar solutions. However, Drive File Stream was built so that your drive would sync to each of your team member’s hard drives.

What that means is that anytime someone updates your files on Google Drive, the updates are synced to every person’s computer, and vice versa. This also allows your team to keep working even when they’re offline.

Amp up your productivity and collaboration with Google Drive

Google Drive seems like a simple enough solution. But it’s more than just an alternative option for the Microsoft suite.

With these Google Drive hacks, you can go above and beyond just creating content in the cloud. You can backup all of your files, get your company organized, collaborate with your team or clients, and so much more.

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