2012-09-01

How to change timezone settings on Gmail, Google Calendar etc.

Every time I go back and forth between the East and West coast of the US, I have to google how to change timezones on Google products, because (1) the settings are hard to find, and (2) you have to do no fewer than SIX different things to avoid all sorts of weird timezone-related glitches:
  1. Update the timezone setting for your computer's system clock -- this is important because SOME but not all Google products use the system timezone (e.g. Gmail reads the system time zone, as do some but not all features in Google Calendar). The option to change the timezone can be found by right-clicking on the clock in the system tray and choosing a Preferences or Time/Date Settings option or similar. (In Fedora Linux, you can also type "system-config-date" as the superuser in a console.) Make sure "System clock uses UTC" is checked so that Daylight Savings time is handled correctly.
  2. Make sure you change the time zone on ALL devices that are logged into your Google account (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops etc.), or you'll have problems. Every time a device refreshes the Gmail webview, for example, it changes the displayed Gmail time zone for all connected clients -- so if you forget you're logged into your Gmail account on a second laptop, and that laptop's timezone settings are wrong, you'll have ongoing issues with multiple devices fighting to change the timezone back and forth between two settings.
  3. Restart Chrome (or whichever browser you use) -- Chrome doesn't always pick up the timezone change of your system clock until it has restarted, even if you refresh or log out of your Google accounts and log back in with the browser still open -- i.e. Gmail may continue to display message timestamps in the old timezone until the browser is restarted, regardless of the timezone setting on your Google account.
  4. In Google Calendar, you have to manually change the display timezone. Go to the gear menu near top right, choose Settings, then under the default tab (General), change the setting "Your current time zone".
  5. If you use Google Voice, it has its own timezone setting too: Go to the gear menu at top right, choose Settings, click the Account tab, and change the Time Zone setting there.
  6. Google Drive now has its own timezone setting too, although it is unset by default (which, I assume, means it uses the system timezone? Or maybe the Google account timezone, described below?): Go to the gear menu at top right, choose Settings, and in the General tab you'll see Time Zone. (I guess if it's unset, leave it unset, hopefully it will use one of the other correctly-set time zones.)
  7. (The really hard one to find): Go to https://security.google.com/settings/security/contactinfo , and under "Other emails", click Edit, which will probably take you to the more obscure-looking URL https://accounts.google.com/b/0/EditUserInfo?hl=en . (You can go directly to that second link, but it looks like the sort of URL that won't be around forever, so I provided the navigation directions.) Here you'll find a timezone setting that, if wrong, can mess with timezone display in strange places in Google products (e.g. the red line showing current time on Google calendar may appear at the wrong time, or events are shown at the wrong time, or popup reminders pop up at the wrong time, but not all of these -- I forget exactly what weird effects were caused by this problem exactly). This setting says it's optional, so you can probably select the blank line from the dropdown list, effectively unsetting an account-specific timezone. I'm hoping then that one of the two timezone settings above will be used instead, but I need to test this. 
(Probably Google apps should all read the browser's timezone, and the browser should watch for updates of the system clock and timezone. Hopefully this gets fixed someday...)

I hope this saves somebody some frustration!

10 comments:

  1. Darn, I tried all of these things and while I did fix my Calendar (whew!) it still says I'm sending/receiving emails an hour beforehand.

    Any other tricks up your sleeve?

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  2. It says this on which computer? The one you're sending emails from? i.e. right after you hit send, it shows a timestamp an hour old? Or are you saying that somebody reading your email on another computer sees the wrong timestamp?

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  3. Hi, I'm hijacking this from Jessica. I have the same time-stamp problem, but it's bigger than just a g-mail issue. When I send emails the time-stamp moves from 3 hours ahead to 5 hours ahead. All settings on my DELL are correct. However, emails sent TO me from others using other brands of computers, other email providers, other everything - well they are also off the same; 3 - 5 hours ahead. I use G-mail to send photos, but Outlook to send text. Outlook is fine-the time is always correct when sending. BUT emails received in Outlook are off the same as emails I send from my G-mail. Help me Obi Wan - you're my only hope.

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  4. In the case of Outlook, there are two separate times/dates: the time sent and time received. By default I think it shows the time sent (for incoming messages), *based on the time on the sender's computer*, not the time received, which is a stupid default. They may have changed the default since the last time I looked. But anyway, you can debug your problem a little more by making sure that both sent and received timestamps are being shown in the message list in Outlook -- see the article here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/how-time-stamps-appear-in-messages-HA001150765.aspx If everything is off by 3-5 hours, then I would hazard a guess that your system clock is showing the correct time, but your timezone is set wrong. I bet you live in a time zone that is 3-5 hours different from UTC (GMT) depending on Daylight Savings. If so, it may be a problem with Windows being set up to use UTC rather than the local time for the BIOS clock. That's a little tricky to fix, because you have to modify the registry to fix the problem as far as I know. I won't give the answer here, since it's complicated, and it may not solve your problem, but it gives you a few things to look into.

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  5. Thanks for the quick response. Nothing from that article works with my system. I have Office 2003 Outlook, Chrome browser, and Win 7. I found wording that was similar (view msg source), clkd on it, and it gave me the time the message was sent from the local server, the time it was sent to a national server, and the time it was sent to my local machine. I looked at 6 emails; all were sent/received within 1 second. However the time was showing, for example, GMT-6, GMT-4, GMT+2, etc.
    Honestly this isn't a biggie at all. I have more important things to be doing. However our youngest daughter is curious as to why we are up at 3 am writing email. Other than that, we really don't care.
    So I'm going to just move on and guess there are other things that I need to be spending my time on. Such as, getting better on my Warwick 5-string. So thank you for spending a few minutes on my question. Hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. Go shoot some firecrackers.

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  6. Thanks a lot Luke. I have one problem and hopefully you can help me solve it. It is regarding the point 6 in your article. I could not locate the timezone settings in google accounts by following the instruction you provided. And as you rightly pointed out, the red line showing the current time in google calender is still showing my previous time zone. PLEASE HELP.

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  7. Owl: You're totally right, Google changed the account settings page. Fortunately the one page they didn't revamp is the one with the timezone setting, so it's still possible to get to it, but it took some careful looking to find it. I updated point #6 above with the new URL, and how to find it in future.

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  8. All I needed was the restart Chrome, but that was a big one since I was assuming there was some setting somewhere to fix it and I couldn't find it. So thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks BradB, I appreciate the suggestion to restart Chrome -- updated the article with this info.

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