20 tips to get the most out of Google Drive, Docs, Slides, and Sheets

Boost your productivity
hands on laptop working on google drive
You might be missing out on some Google Drive goodies. Cottonbro / Pexels

This story has been updated. It was originally published on May 9, 2017.

When Google Docs first appeared more than a decade ago, the idea of software running in a browser was a strange and unusual one. Since then, Google Drive has grown in strength, with millions now relying on the free word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools it offers.

But just because you use Google Drive doesn’t mean you’re using it to its full potential. The suite offers unexpected—and powerful—features when you scratch its surface.

8 tips for Google Drive

1. Work offline

Google Drive’s offline mode lets you create and edit files in your browser without an internet connection. As soon as you connect to the web again, it will sync your changes. To set it up, click the cog icon in Google Drive, choose Settings, and then check the box next to Offline.

2. Copy formats

One of the most useful tools inside Docs, Sheets, and Slides is a little button on the toolbar that looks like a paint roller, called Paint format. This will allow you to paste text format (not the text itself). To use it, select some text, click the paint roller icon, and select the text you want to reformat. Google will automatically change the formatting to match.

3. Search within images and PDFs

You might not have realized it, but Google Drive scans through all the images and PDFs you upload. This makes the text within them searchable. Try searching for a phrase that you know is inside a picture or PDF. The feature isn’t perfect yet—don’t try searching for a handwritten phrase, for example—but it’s still helpful.

[Related: Easily convert a PDF to an image on your phone]

4. Sync your files across computers

You can download Google Drive clients for Windows and macOS that will sync your files—those you create in Google Drive and those on your local drive—between computers. The desktop client will create a Google Drive folder on the computers. Drop any file into that folder, and the file will be uploaded to the web and synced with the Google Drive folders on your other devices. Just don’t try uploading everything you own—Google Drive has storage limits (see No. 7 on this list).

5. Tag people in comments

Google Drive is great for working on documents (and spreadsheets and presentations) with other people. If you need to grab a collaborator’s attention, you can do it in a comment: just type the “@” or “+” symbol and start typing out a contact’s name. Choose the right entry from the list that pops up.

6. Revert to older versions

If you need to undo some mistakes or are just pining for the past, you can access older versions of the Doc, Sheet, or Slide you’ve been editing. On any of those platforms, open the File menu, click Version history, and you can preview or roll back to previous versions of the document. You can also go straight to the document’s history by clicking the Last edits link to the right of the Accessibility tab. 

7. Check the biggest files

Those of you who’ve paid Google for some extra storage space probably want to know what’s taking up most of it. And if you’re running out of room, you may want to know what’s hogging all your space. To figure it out, hover the cursor over the storage quota box on the left of the Google Drive screen and then click on it to see your biggest files listed first.

8. Stream video

If you upload video clips to Google Drive in a popular format (such as MP4), you can stream them straight from the cloud, YouTube-style, without any special settings or edits. It’s one way of taking your movie collection with you when you’re away from home.

4 tips for Google Docs

Hyperlinks embedded in documents don’t have to lead to websites—you can easily create links that jump to other files inside Google Docs. Open up the link dialog box by clicking the link icon on the toolbar, then run a search for the title of the file you want to link to.

10. Import new fonts

For those times when you want to add a little more pizzazz to your documents, import an extra font or two. Open up the drop-down fonts menu on the toolbar, select More fonts, and you’ll get access to thousands of choices pulled from the Google Fonts collection.

11. Dictate documents

If you want to give your overworked typing fingers a rest, then switch on dictation in Google Docs. Open the Tools menu, click Voice typing, click the microphone, and start speaking. If the software makes a typo, that’s no problem—you can still make edits with the keyboard while the dictate tool is open.

12. Add words to the dictionary

By default, misspelled words get underlined in Google Docs, which may be annoying if you’re using a lot of custom terms and slang. To add a word to the dictionary, right-click on it and choose Add [WORD] to dictionary. If you want to take a look at the words and terms you’ve added to your Google Docs’ database, you can find it under Tools, Spelling and grammar, and then Personal dictionary.

4 tips for Google Sheets

13. Quickly fill a cell series

To fill a long column or row of cells with a series (like days of the week or numbers), highlight the first cell or cells in the series, then click the little blue square in the bottom right-hand corner. When hovering over this “handle,” the cursor should look like a little plus sign. Drag down or across and, if the app can figure out how the series works, it will extend it to the squares you’re highlighting.

14. View calculations instantly

When you’re working on a spreadsheet in Google Sheets, take note of the little summary box that shows up in the bottom right-hand corner when you select a group of cells. By default, you’ll see what the contents add up to, but if you click on it you’ll also see other useful stats like the cells’ average, maximum, and minimum.

15. Get started with a template

Templates are available in Docs and Slides, but they’re particularly useful in Google Sheets. These blueprints can give you a head start with your finances, your annual report, or whatever you’re building. Head to the Google Sheets front page online to see which templates are available.

16. Add images

Liven up your spreadsheets with a picture or five. They can float over the document (click Insert, then Image) or be locked inside a particular cell. For the latter option, enter =IMAGE(URL) in the cell, replacing “URL” with the link to the image on the web.

4 tips for Google Slides

17. Edit in bulk

Want to make the same changes to a lot of slides at once? The presentation’s master slide is your friend. Open the Slide menu, click Edit theme, and you can modify the template layouts for your slides, from the title slide to those that show bullet-point lists.

[Related: Boost your productivity on Google Docs and Sheets using scripts and macros]

18. Pick the right images

If you’re dropping an image into your presentation, then you want one that matches your existing color scheme. Google Slides can help you out. Pick Insert then Image, and if you go over to the Search the web option on the menu and enter some terms, you can then choose a photo with the ideal dominant color.

19. Stream presentations to a Chromecast

Chances are that, if you’re building a presentation in Google Slides, you plan to share it with an audience. If you click on the Slideshow drop-down menu in the upper right corner of Google Sheets on the web, you’ll see a Present on another screen option. Use this to send the slides to a nearby Chromecast, or even to one of Apple’s AirPlay receivers.

20. Embed presentations online

Another way to send your presentation into the wider world is to embed it on a webpage. Click File, then Publish to the web, and you can either publish the presentation publicly with its own URL, or get the HTML code you need to embed it somewhere else. You can also tweak settings to determine the size of your slides and to make your presentation start as soon as the player loads and then replay right after it ends.