How to hack Google Drive like a boss

When you’re running a startup, it’s important that you and your business are efficient. Everyone is taking to The Cloud to help streamline their workflows, and Google Drive is a leader in cloud storage right now.

Not everyone knows how to use Drive to the best of its ability, however, so we’ve put together a guide to turn you into a Google Drive ‘Ace’.

If you spend more than 2 hours per work day in Google drive then that’s at least 500 hours per year in drive. Improving efficiency by 10% would deliver 50 hours per year in saved time. That’s an entire work week. If you spend 30 minutes improving your Google Drive skills then that’s an amazing ROI.

In short, it’s a good idea to level up in the Google Drive skills department.

14 essentials for Google Drive

1 – Learn the keyboard shortcuts

The faster you can navigate Drive, the more efficient your work will be. Take some time to learn the key shortcuts for actions you perform frequently and integrate them into your workflow. If you forget a shortcut, you can hit Ctrl+/ (Cmd+/ on Mac) to quickly see all of them on your screen.

Google Drive keyboard shortcuts

2 – Write with formatting in mind

Doing this will save you time in the long run, especially if you’re working on longer pieces. Rather than just bolding headings as you go through the document, use the formatting options (Normal text, Heading 1, Heading 2, etc).

This will allow you to simply select ‘Insert > Table of Contents‘ and Docs will automatically add one for you based on your formatting.

3 – Use the research pane to streamline your workflow

Google Drive research

Go into ‘Tools’ on the taskbar and click ‘Research’. This will open up a google search window on the right-hand side of the document you’re working in. From this window, you can do quick research, preview web pages, and drag directly from the web into your document. This is perfect for sourcing and citing as you go.

4 – Install Drive on your computer

Download the software to your desktop to save yourself some steps. Once it’s installed you’ll have access to all of the files currently saved to your Drive. You can upload new files right direct from your computer by clicking and dragging into the Drive folder.

5 – Install Drive on your phone

Drive is officially available on Android and iPhone. You can also get it on Windows Phone with an app called Metro Drive. Having Drive on your phone is great for pulling up images on the go, or saving quick notes for yourself to review when you get to a computer.

Google also has separate apps for each application within Drive (Docs, Sheets, Forms, etc). It may seem like a hassle, but the apps switch easily between one another, and deliver a great user experience this way.

6 – Most documents can be converted into Drive-friendly formats

You can convert most files into Google-friendly documents without destroying the original file. Right-click on any non-drive document and select ‘open with> Google Drive‘ to convert it and start editing in Drive.

You can also do this automatically upon upload by following these steps:

  • Click on the gear icon in the top right of Drive
  • Select “Settings”
  • In the “Convert uploads” select the tick box: “Convert uploaded files to Google Docs editor format”

Google drive gear drop down

auto convert uploads

7 – Make your documents accessible while offline

There will be times when you find yourself disconnected from the internet. To avoid getting caught out use offline mode from within Drive. This syncs all of your docs with the computer you’re currently on, and allows you to edit them without needing the internet.

Any changes you make will be uploaded to the web (replacing the previous versions) once you reconnect. To enable offline mode, click on the cog in the top right corner, then go to settings and tick “Sync Google Docs, Sheets, Slides & Drawings files to this computer so that you can edit offline”.

The only reason you wouldn’t do this is if you think someone else will be working on the document while you’re offline. In that case be careful to avoid version conflicts when you re-sync the document.

Google Drive Settings Page

8 – Learn how to recover old versions of files

Sometimes you’ll work on a document only to feel that an earlier version was better. Fortunately Google Drive makes reverting to previous versions of a document easy. If you go to ‘File > Revision history‘ you can see all the iterations of a document from the last 30 days and switch between them to see changes.

You can even use this to see what contributions (or lack thereof) team members have made to a shared document.

9 – Share with your team

Drive really comes alive when you use it to share and collaborate with your team. You can share documents using a link you can email or post publicly. You can also have it give access to specific email addresses or make the document open and accessible to anyone in the general public.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 2.44.39 PM

You can also manage the level of access you give different people. You will want some people in your business to be able to edit, others to be able to add comments without editing and some to have read-only access.

Suggest edits‘ also brings the much-loved ‘track changes’ from MS Word to Drive; making collaboration and feedback easy for different teams.

10 – Use ‘Web Clipboard’ to make copy and pasting easy

Drive’s web clipboard, unlike the clipboard on your computer, allows you to clip multiple things at once. This is great for when you’re transferring information from one document to another.

Rather than going back and forth, go ‘edit > web clipboard > clip selection‘ with each section in turn. You can then paste all the sections in a new document without having to switch tabs constantly.

11 – Set up a filing system

Drive is a storage system, and if you don’t keep it organized, it will become frustrating to use. This is especially important given that Drive (ironically for a Google product) has lackluster search functionality.

Logical and sensible use of folders and numbering will ensure that information is always easy to find and clearly labeled.

What you want is this:

Drive folders sorted

Not this:

Google drive unsorted

12 – Use Drive with Chrome

One of the benefits of using the Google Chrome browser with Drive is that you can search for Google drive documents in the Chrome search bar. Both products are made by Google so it makes sense that this compatibility exists.

using Chrome with Drive

13 – Google Sheets: ImportRange

The importrange function gives you a way to have sheets pull data and feed data to and from each other. This sounds quite simple but the implications are powerful.

For example, what if you want to share data from one part of one sheet with someone else but not have them see all the data in that sheet? Then you can use importrange to feed that data to a sheet they have access to.

You can also pull data from several sheets into one larger sheet that you might be using as a dashboard or for reporting. Now instead of seeing your sheets as a series of standalone documents they can instead be linked together to do bigger and more powerful things.

14 – Extend with Zapier

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 3.02.17 PM

Want to feed data to your Google sheets from other SaaS tools or online services? Use Zapier to as the bridge between these applications so that you can automatically pull data from those places and manage them in Google sheets.

This massively increases the number of things you can manage from sheets. Slack, Trello, PayPal, Mailchimp, Twitter, Hubspot and over 94 more services can be connected this way. Likewise with Google Drive and Google Docs.

If you go far enough down this path it’s likely you’ll need to switch to a more robust SaaS solution for whatever you’re using Google Drive, sheets and docs to do.

By building it here first will be a scrappy and cheap way to figure out your needs so that by the time you upgrade you’ll have essentially spec’ed out your needs and you’ll have something you can show to a developer to build or a solution provider so they can see firsthand what your needs are.

Embrace Add-Ons And Plugins For Drive

The essentials are what will make you competent. But it’s the use of plugins that will turn you into a Google Drive Ace.

1 – Fogpad

Whilst it’s great to be able to share all your documents, it’s important to ensure they have the necessary protection as well. Fogpad allows you to encrypt important and private documents for your security.

2 – Hellosign & Hellofax

Hellosign is a service we already enjoy here at Gigster, and their Drive plugin only makes us love them more. Being able to share documents without leaving Drive is a real time-saver.

Its sister software, Hellofax, helps streamline those unavoidable moments when you have to fax a document. Save the ink and do it straight from Drive!

3 – Mapping Sheets

If you have a lot of location data for your customers or target audience, you can use Mapping Sheets to map those destinations. Perfect for creating a visual presentation for investors, or discovering interesting trends at a glance.

4 – UberConference

This plugin helps you up your feedback game without having to leave Drive. Just open the plugin up in the document you want to discuss and start the conversation.

5 – Gliphy Diagrams

Use this app to quickly create visualizations. From mind-maps to wireframes. If you’re just looking for a mind mapping tool, MindMeister is worth considering. However, if you want more options for your visuals Gliphy is the way to go.

Optimize Your Browser For Google Drive

If you regularly use the Google Chrome web browser, then ‘Save to Google Drive‘ is a must-have extension. This lets you clip pictures and articles straight from the web to your Drive in much the same way Evernote’s Clipper does.

Next, install the ‘Black Menu‘ extension to help you quickly move between all of Google’s services (YouTube, Translate, Calendar, etc) from a drop down in your browser toolbar. You can also access individual files within Drive through Black Menu to save even more time.


Not running Chrome, but still want to improve your workflow? Add some links to your toolbar which automatically open up:

Follow these tips and tricks and you’ll be reaping the benefits of an improved workflow in no time. Let us know if there are any powerful shortcuts, hacks, tips and tricks we’ve missed.

Looking for help taking your website or app to the next level? Why not have a chat with us to see how we can help.

Alex Blott

Alex is based in Glasgow, Scotland, and regularly takes advantage of the highlands at his doorstep. He loves interviewing Gigsters clients because they're diverse and he always learns something new. His favourite writer is John Jeremiah Sullivan.