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!