How to Make Gmail Look and Feel More Like Outlook

Gmail's user interface has so many customization options that allow you to perfect your individual workflow. For anyone entrenched in the ways of Outlook, this guide will help make Gmail look more familiar, including some of the most requested features from my Gmail training attendees.

Making the transition from Outlook to Gmail can be a big adjustment. Since Gmail works best through the browser or the Gmail application, some people may feel like they are having to give up on preferences they previously liked in Outlook. However, despite having to accept that labels are functionally different from folders, there are many ways to make your Gmail experience more familiar to the Outlook user interface.  

Turn off conversation view

Conversation view is a controversial setting. Some people swear by this grouping of all replies in a single thread for organization, and some hate not receiving individual emails. If you’ve been using Outlook for a long time, chances are you are most used to not having conversation mode.

Conversation view on will show there are 4 messages within this email thread.
Conversation view off will keep every reply email separate with the newest responses at the top of your inbox.

Gmail will have conversation view on by default, but it’s easy to toggle off. First go to settings by clicking the gear icon and selecting settings.

Scroll about halfway down or do ctrl or cmd + f to search for “conversation view”. You will be able to select the radial from on to off. With any Gmail setting, don’t forget to scroll all the way to the bottom to save your changes before returning to your inbox.  

Enable preview pane

This is probably the most visual change that people miss when migrating to Gmail. Preview pane allows you to select an email and view it without having to open it and leave your inbox. By default, Gmail will open any email you click, causing you to have to press the back or inbox button to search more email. (You can also hit the next or previous arrow, but that’s another new workflow to adjust to.) 

Vertical preview pane in Gmail after being enabled in advanced settings.
Message preview in Outlook. Compare to the above picture and it’s very similar.

Adding a preview pane requires you to enable this setting in the advanced settings. Start by going to settings using the gear in the upper right of your window. There will be multiple settings tabs to choose from. Towards the end (or on the second line if you have a small window) is “advanced”. Under this tab, you can find Preview Pane halfway down the list. Click enable and then click save changes.

Enabling preview pane will allow you to toggle this setting on and off from your inbox.

When you return to your inbox there will be a new icon at the top near the settings gear. Click this to toggle preview pane on and off or click the drop down arrow to select where the preview pane will be located. Choose the vertical split to appear more like the Outlook default view.

The icon near the settings allows you to change the position of the preview pane.

Replacing or replicating Focused Inbox 

Microsoft released Focused Inbox in an update to Outlook 2016 as a tool that determined what sorts of messages were clutter and what were important based on the content and user interactions with similar messages. Gmail has its own intelligent organization functions using important message labeling and message categories. However, if you want it to act in the same way as focused inbox, you will have to adjust a few settings.

The default inbox settings include categories to automatically sort your emails, not too dissimilar from focused inbox.

Important as a label

By default, Gmail will mark certain messages as important based on your interactions with previous messages. If you want to view only these messages, you can do so by clicking “important” on the left panel that lists your labels. To have important messages always kept separate and viewable at the top of your inbox, you can change your priority inbox. Start by opening the settings (using the gear symbol in the upper right corner and clicking settings). The third tab at the top should be inbox settings. Click there to view the default inbox setup. Change the inbox type to “important first” to keep important messages at the top. This isn’t exactly like priority inbox, so you may want to view the other options to find what will work best for you.

Different inbox types will give you different results, so explore these options for yourself.

Using default inbox type and message categories

Changing the inbox type will also get rid of the email categories of Social and Promotions. These tabs were similar to clutter or the “other” inbox of focused inbox. You may find you prefer the default Gmail organization to making Gmail act more like Outlook’s Focused Inbox. If so, you can explore toggle the categories on and off by clicking the settings gear and then configure inbox. If you do use this organization structure, just be sure to check in on your other message categories. Like Outlook’s clutter feature, there can be false positives and a few emails you may miss.

Promotions helps sort out newsletters and offers from mailing lists you’ve signed up for. Fingers crossed for that Hamilton lottery.

Additional inbox settings to personalize Gmail

Gmail offers a lot of settings that you can toggle on and off to match your preferences. I recommend exploring all that Gmail has to offer and finding what works best for you. Here are a few settings I recommend checking out. 

Customize your Gmail inbox to suit your preferences.
  • Button labels – You may not have memorized what each icon means and find yourself searching for the button you want. If you search for button labels in the general settings, you can change these from a visual icon to a text button. 
  • Nudges/Snooze – These features, which you can find under general settings, will bring an older email to the top of your inbox days after the last message to prompt you to take further action. It’s good if you need reminders for following up. It can be annoying if you don’t. Fortunately, you can use snooze on these nudged message or any messages to push back the reminder to a later time.  
  • Undo Send – Located under general settings, you can make every email send with up to a 30 second delay, allowing you to undo and accidental sent message. The default is 5 seconds and an undo tab shows up briefly in the lower left corner after sending a message.

Check these and more settings out as you adjust to the wonderful workflow of Gmail.  

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