In the interest of simplifying and standardizing, I’ve found myself having to take Outlook away from many otherwise perfectly happy users. Here are the changes I made to in my own Gmail interface when I left Outlook.

Note: These settings are current as of November 11, 2019. If you’re reading this in the future, Google may have moved some stuff around. Also, how are the Broncos doing?

OK! So all the settings we want are under the little gear icon at the top right.

  • First click on the gear and then select “Display Density”
    The three options on the bottom change the “padding” around the email lists. I like “Compact” because it puts more emails on the page
  • Scroll down on that same gear menu to “Reading Pane” and set it to “Right of Inbox” or “Below Inbox”
    This is the big one – just like Outlook’s reading pane. I prefer the reading pane on the right since screens are so WIDE these days
  • Next, click on the gear again and this time go to “Settings”
    This is where all the other settings live

Settings > General

On this first tab of the settings page is where most of the options are. There are a lot of things in here, these are the key ones in the order in which they appear on the page.

  • Maximum page size: This is the number of emails/conversations that are shown per page. We want as many as possible so set it to “Show 100 conversations per page”
  • Conversation view: This setting groups your emails by subject so you can see all the emails from a “conversation” together. I personally don’t care for that, but here is where you can enable/disable if you do.
  • Desktop notifications: If you’d like Gmail to pop up and notify you when you have an email turn this on. First click on the blue line that says “Click here to enable desktop notifications for Gmail” and then “Allow” in the pop up. Then you can select which option you’d like.
  • Stars: These are like Outlook’s flags. By default, Google only has a yellow “star” option that you can click to star/unstar a message. You can enable other icons here if you’d like and then repeatedly click a message to go through the different colored options. So you can flag some messages with a yellow star, some with a purple star, some with a green check, etc. Click the icon’s you’d like to use on the “Not in use” line to add them to the “In use” line
  • Button Labels: Set this to “Text”. This changes the little buttons at the top of the Gmail interface from icons into text that says what the button does. Makes it a little easier to figure out what everything does
  • Signature: Here is where you add your signature. You can also copy and paste graphics into here. If you see someone else’s signature in a format you like, you can also copy and paste that entire block and then edit in here.
  • Snippits: Show a preview of the message underneath the subject. I personally don’t care for this option but it is useful if you don’t want to use the full reading pane (below).
  • Vacation Responder: All right! Have a great trip!


OK, onto the next tab along the top there…
(if you made changes on the General Tab and saved, you may have to come back into settings from the gear icon)

Settings > Labels

This is where you can manage your Gmail Labels which work similarly to Outlook folders. You can also create them by clicking on the “Create new label” button at the bottom of the list on the left in Gmail, which is actually easier. But if you want to manage them all in one place, that’s here.

Settings > Inbox

This page has one of my favorite features of Gmail on it. Under Categories, I’d recommend enabling the Social and Promotions tabs by checking their boxes. You’ll now have 3 tabs in your Gmail. All email from social media sites will be routed to the Social tab and marketing / eblasts will be routed to Promotions. So you can stay focused on your inbox and just check those when you want.

The next several tabs have some useful settings that don’t really pertain to this. But Filters and Blocked Addresses is where you find Google’s equivalent to Outlook’s “Rules”. So the next place we are headed is

Settings > Chat

Unless you want to use Google hangouts chat, turn chat off to get yourself a whole bunch more space for your labels on the left.

Settings > Themes

And the fun one – you can pick a background image from here or (my favorite) select the ? one at the very bottom right to load a random theme every time you start Gmail.

That’s it! Remember to save changes when done!