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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

4 Times You Should Really Be Using Google Sheets Instead of Excel

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Even if you’re not in a position that requires heavy number-crunching, you’ve probably had to use Excel at least once or twice in your career. It’s one of those programs that has so many different uses across various industries.

For example, in one of my old jobs we didn’t employ Excel for its traditional use of calculating financial data or creating graphs. Instead, we used a number of spreadsheets to track employee contact information, as well as task due dates and upcoming projects on the horizon. And while it’s definitely a useful tool, it does have some limitations—which brings me to my new favorite substitute: Google Sheets.

When I first started using it, I kicked myself for not making the switch sooner. It’s streamlined, simple, and mobile-friendly. While it isn’t a perfect replacement for Excel, there are a number of situations in which it’s arguably the better option.

Here’s when I recommend making it your spreadsheet of choice:

1. You’re Collaborating

In my former position, I’d often shout back and forth across cubicles with my colleagues to figure out who left the Excel file we were working on open on their computer. Even though we all had access to the spreadsheet, it stood to reason that we didn’t always have access to the most current version since only one person could update it at a time. Trying to sort through multiple saved iterations was an enormous hassle—to put it mildly.

So, unless you’re a huge fan of sending files back and forth, or saving new versions of the same spreadsheet several times a day, Google’s the way to go. It’s cloud-based, meaning multiple people can access and use the file at the same time—any and all changes will be reflected in real-time.

There’s also an option to leave comments, so if you have a question about why one of your partners changed a number or added a column (or anything really), you can add a quick note. Plus, there’s also a way to see the revision history, in case you’d like to revert to an earlier version. Its functionality makes communication a breeze.

2. You’re Pulling Real-Time Data

This is one of the coolest features that I only discovered recently: Because the program’s inherently connected to Google, you can input formulas for stock information, RSS feeds, or even use Google’s translate feature.

What this means is that your Sheet can automatically pull data that you may’ve collected and compiled manually before. I realize that this is a niche use, but let’s say you want to keep your eye on a few stocks; all you’d have to do is input the formula and the stock ticker name, and voila: You’ve created your own personal tracker that updates in real-time (so long as you’re connected to the web).

3. You Need to Update Frequently

One of the first things I used Google Sheets for (on a personal basis) was to keep track of my yoga teaching; I wanted to record location, studio, hours, and number of students for future tax reasons as well as accumulation of teaching hours. Sheets made the most sense for me, because of the free mobile app feature as well as the simple format.

While using a phone for complex formulas probably isn’t ideal, it was perfect for quick and frequent updates while I was on the go.

If pulling out a computer to add a small piece of data sounds like a chore, you’ll find Sheets useful for its convenience and instant synchronization; once you add the information, it’s updated everywhere, not just on your phone.

This could come in handy if you keep an ongoing list of people you meet at networking events or client dinners; your Sheet could have name, date, venue, and any info you’d want to keep in mind for follow-up emails. Or, you could use it to track expenses and travel miles for business trips.

The options for how you can use the program on-the-go are infinite; unlike most apps (such as ones for budgeting, making lists, and so on) you can create as many columns and rows as you need.

4. You’re on a Budget

I’ll keep this short and sweet: Sheets is free; Excel isn’t.

If your company’s paying and prefers Excel, obviously, you’ll want to defer to them (unless you’re in a position to make a clear argument for the switch). But, if that’s not the case, the choice seems so clear.

To the diehard Excel user, I’m sure you have plenty of reasons why you stand by your program—and it makes sense to stick with it, particularly if you’re in a finance or data analyst position and use thousands of cells worth of data that Sheets just can't handle as well.

But for some of us, it just doesn’t make sense to use a desktop-based program in an environment that’s increasingly collaborative. It may make your job just a little bit easier—and who doesn’t want that?