Tips and Tricks for Technical Writers: Google Freely and Productively

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Google is everywhere. Really. So it’s no wonder Google wants to help you migrate into the cloud, and they make it easy because their services work seamlessly and amazingly well with each other. If you have a Google Account, you have access to a plethora of programs and services, some of which you may not even be aware of, that can make your everyday life much more productive. These services can be a boon for technical communicators who want to break the chains of the old-fashioned desktop and move their digital lives onto personal, mobile, smart devices.

Here’s a list of tips and tricks to Google your way to productivity, and save yourself the grief, frustration, and anger associated with trying to live the digital life; some quick ideas for setting up filters and labels to easily manage the flood of email; apps to protect your smartphone’s pictures and contacts; and using Google tools and apps offline.

 Gmail:  A BFF for Technical Writers

Email is fun. I mean, email is not fun. It depends on how you manage it. If you are familiar with the basics of Gmail, you’ll find lot of great tools within this service alone that can make your love/hate relationship with email tilt towards the love side. Instead of being a slave to your email, make friends with it.

Use Gmail as Your Master Email Inbox

Do you have multiple email accounts that you check constantly? Centralize all of those accounts into a single Gmail account. Gmail offers a few options that you can use to make it easy to send and receive email from different email accounts from a single inbox.

Forward Email to Another Account

For example if you have an extra Gmail account that you hardly utilize, you can forward its emails to another email address you check more often. I use this feature for my family’s general Gmail account. Go to Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP > Add Forwarding Address.

Check Other Email from Gmail

Another nifty feature Gmail offers is the ability to check other email accounts and have email show up in your Gmail inbox–great for checking email from inboxes that otherwise hardly get checked. (I use it to check email from other accounts, like AOL). Go to Settings > Accounts and Import > Check Email From Other Accounts (Using POP3). Add the mail server settings from that email account and Gmail will periodically check the outside email account and download any new email. A useful tool if your technical communication team monitors support inboxes or general requests for information.

Send Email as Another Email Address

I find that this great feature is terribly underutilized. It’s easy to receive email from other accounts into your main Gmail account, and reply using the original email address. Go to Settings > Accounts and Import > Send Mail As. It takes a couple of settings and a confirmation email to start using Gmail to send email as another email address.

Organize Your Email via Labels and Filters

Gmail offers you nearly 10GB of space. Why would you want to delete any emails at all? Email can accumulate quickly and you might want to clear it from the inbox but make it easy to search for later. Labeling regularly received emails makes it easier to identify which messages are important and ones that can be handled later.

Once you create labels, you can easily organize your messages. For example, I set up filters to label all of my social networking emails by their corresponding name (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+) and they are nested under the label “Social.”

So I create a filter by searching for certain emails in my inbox. The rules work to apply searches for various email addresses or blanket addresses. For example, if the email matches “*@postmaster.twitter.com,” I want to apply the label “Social/Twitter”. Then all my email sent to my email address from Twitter gets labeled.

Other Gmail Tips to Enhance Productivity

Because Google integrates its tools and apps so well, you can use Gmail to handle some other tasks:

  • Find email and chats from your Google+ Circles. On the left-panel, you can select which circles to view.
  • Use Google Talk that to send SMS messages, video chat, and call people, all from Gmail.
  • Monitor your login activity from Gmail. On the bottom of the Gmail screen, click on Last Account Activity Details to see which IP address you have been logged into. Also you can end any all logged in sessions and/or show an alert for unusual activity to protect yourself from spies accessing your email.

 

Google Apps for Living a Mobile Technical Writer Life

Beyond Gmail, your Google Account gives you access to a lot of apps that really make your mobile life much powerful. You’ll love what you can do with your smartphone and the apps that go with it. Be aware that these apps may use mobile data whenever not connected to a wireless network.

Use Google+ to Back up Your Smartphone Photos

The latest update of the Google+ app allows you to back up the photos and videos you take from your smartphone. If your phone ever becomes lost, stolen, or damaged, you’ll be able to access your photos on Google+. Even better, the automatic photo backup means you can selectively share photos to your circles and keep others private. Go to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and download the latest Google+ App. Then go to Settings > Instant Upload > Turn on Instant Upload and adjust settings according to your data plan.

Use an Alternative Phone Number for Extra Protection

Google Voice offers your own phone number which you can use to forward texts and calls to your existing phones (mobile and landline). Google Voice lets you view your text messages, read and listen to voicemails online, and have those messages forwarded to your Gmail account. When call forwarding is involved, you can set up Google Voice to screen calls and filter certain callers to custom voicemail prompts. Additionally there is a Google Labs plugin that allows you to use Google Voice inside Gmail. How nifty is that? http://www.google.com/voice/

Use Google to Create a Synched Backup of Your Phone

Ever lost your phone? Google can save you from the loss of your contacts and calendar by using Gmail as your central address book and calendar. The Google Mobile Sync app enables you to back up your phone’s contacts, calendar, and restore them back onto your phone. Download it from http://www.google.com/mobile/sync/.

 

Google Drive and Beyond

Google recently made cloud storage available. You can use Google Drive to back up your technical communication or personal files and access them anywhere there is an Internet connection. If you’ve used Google Docs in the past, note that the app has been transformed to Google Drive.

Document Collaboration

Most Google products are meant to work with each other, and using Google Drive instead of Google Docs makes the most of collaboration for dispersed technical communication groups. For example, anyone is allowed to edit the same document at the same exact time, and the edits display in real-time. The new upgrade has some nifty features that we got used to in those “other” word processing apps, such as grammar and spell check. You can now right-click and change items on the document, something you could not previously do.

Google Spreadsheet Web Form

I think one of the most awesome features of Google Spreadsheets is creating web forms that users fill out. Instead of getting an email from every user who submits a form, you can have it populate a spreadsheet easily. This feature is great if you manage clubs, meetings, or surveys where you need quickly accessible data.

Maps Feature:  Embed Assistance into Sites or Pages

Maps are awesome. Use the Maps feature to include driving directions, short links for smart phones, and printable maps with specific driving directions. Map out the directions, then click on the route and reroute it to your liking.

Use Gmail and Calendar Offline

If you happen to be in an area without Internet, you can read and compose messages using the Google Chrome Apps for Gmail Offline and Google Calendar apps. The Gmail Offline app allows you to access up to a month of email. The app automatically sends emails composed offline when an internet connection is available.

 Editor’s note: TechWhirl’s Special Writers Unit makes great use of Google apps and tools. This article idea came up during our monthly Google+ hangout to discuss TechWhirl editorial. Roger then composed this article in Google Docs and used Gmail features to send and revise it. What Google apps do you use? How are you making yourself or your team more productive? Post a comment with your suggestions.

Roger is relatively new to the technical communication field; however, he works extremely hard to network and develop professional relationships among colleagues. He also posts articles regarding technical communication on his blog at WriteTechie.com. If you are interested in hiring Roger, feel free to view his resume on LinkedIn.

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