5 Chromebook tips and tricks to fine-tune your productivity

chromebook detail display hinge

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While Chrome OS started life as a simple, stripped-down browser and little else, Google's operating system now has tons of tools, tweaks, and customizations that let you tailor your Chromebook to your specific workflow needs.

Just like Windows or OS X, Google's built additional functionality into Chrome OS's app launcher, the taskbar-like shelf, window sizing, and other functions to help you stay productive. These tips will show you how to make the most of those tools and start getting stuff done on your Chromebook.

Let's dig in!

Arrange your shelf

The shelf has many of the features you may know from the Windows taskbar. You can even relocate it to the left or right side of the screen, though not the top. Just right-click it and choose your desired location.

chromebook shelf

Move the shelf to the left or right side of the screen.

The Chrome OS shelf also gives you some flexibility in how you launch apps. You can right-click an app and select to open it by default as a window, pinned tab, or full screen. For example, I tell Google Play Music to launch in a separate window so it acts like a standalone music application, such as Spotify or iTunes on other operating systems. Doing the same with Gmail and the Google Drive productivity suite can help those feel like discrete desktop apps, especially if you activate their offline capabilities.

Customize the app launcher

Exerting order on the randomness of the Chrome OS app launcher can also streamline your workflow. Customize the app arrangement in the launcher by clicking and holding on an app and then moving it. 

chrome app launcher

Group similar apps into a folder, just as you would do on an iPhone or Android device.

You can also move around the icons and bundle them together in folders, just as you would on an Android device or iPhone. If there are several different apps that you use from the launcher instead of the shelf, this is a great way to find them faster. Don’t forget, however, you can also hit the Search button (where the caps lock would be on a PC or Mac) and start typing the name of the app for another rapid way to launch your next task.

Focus on your task by going full-screen

With a couple of tweaks you can focus on one task, such as writing in a Google Doc or Office Online file. For writing, I like to auto-hide the shelf and set the tab in full-screen so I can just focus on what I'm working on. (Press the Immersive mode button, or F4, to entire full screen mode on a Chromebook.)

chrome full screen

Writing a Google Doc is one of many uses for going full-screen with a Chrome app.

In Immersive mode, additional tabs are represented by horizontal bars along the top of the screen. Your shelf is represented by similar bars, so you can still switch between apps in Immersive mode if you don't feel like using one of the many Chrome keyboard shortcuts.

Snap windows on the left & right

Just like the Windows Snap feature that came out in Windows 7, you can dock two separate windows on the left and right sides of the screen for multitasking. It’s great if you’re editing spreadsheets, for instance, as you can update the spreadsheet on one side of the screen and view source data on the other side. You can also assign different browser tabs to each half of the screen.

chrome window snap

Just like in Windows, you can dock two windows side by side.

To snap a window to the left or right side of your Chromebook's display, click and hold the title bar or tab, then simply drag it to the left or right edge of the screen.

Search Gmail and Google Drive right from the omnibox

If you’re searching Gmail or Google Drive often—hey, you are using a Chromebook after all—then this little trick will make you quicker. You can search these items right from the Chrome browser's Omnibox.

chrome search gmail

Search your Gmail right from the Omnibar. 

Doing so requires some setup, however. Click the browser's options menu, then head to Settings > Manage search engines. Scroll to the bottom of the Other search engines box (pictured below). Then add Gmail in the Add a new search engine box at the bottom, type Gmail as the keyword, and the following URL:


Follow the same procedure for Google Drive, using Drive (or whatever you'd like) as the keyword and following as the URL:


Once you do this, you won’t need to navigate to these specific apps to search for any of the items. All you'll need to do is type either Gmail or Drive into the browser Omnibox, press Tab, then type in a search term and press Enter. It sounds like a lot of steps, but it's insanely quick in practice.

Notice all the "Other search engines" already loaded into Chrome's "Manage search engines" setting. You can perform the same steps to search within those sites, or add any site you'd like to quick-search using similar steps to those above.

chrome search engines

Add a custom search engine in the Chrome OS settings.

It's this sort of extendability that makes Chromebooks strong enough to serve as your main computer, especially if you've embraced the wider Google ecosystem. Once you've mastered these steps, be sure to check out PCWorld's Chromebook power user tips and our guide to powerful websites that will make you forget about desktop software for even more tools and tricks that will help you squeeze the most out of your Chromebook.

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