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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

12 Tips That’ll Make Using Google Sheets at Work a Heck of a Lot Easier

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In case you haven’t heard, spreadsheets aren’t only for accountants anymore. Nowadays, you can save time and energy by using them for just about anything—from organizing your to-do list to scheduling travel to filling out expense reports to planning events.

If Google Sheets is your go-to application over Excel (which it probably is if you aren’t doing anything too fancy), these tips will supercharge your skills to make getting your work done even faster and easier, no matter what role you’re in.

1. Make Your Sheets Neater and Easier to Read

Some of the latest updates to Google Sheets allow you to make your data look cleaner and neater. For example, they let you split text—like a name and address that’s all together in one cell—into separate cells, remove duplicate cells so you aren’t counting data twice, or trim whitespace to get rid of unneeded spaces between words. I’ve already taken advantage of these new menu options to clean up longer text from people’s replies to some customer surveys I’ve sent out so that the info is easier to read and compare.

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2. Add Images to Get Your Company Branding on There (or Make It Pretty)

If you’re creating spreadsheets to share with clients or customers (and want them to look extra nice), Google Sheets recently made adding an image—like your company logo—more straightforward. And you can have the image fit within one cell or cover several so the pic will fit perfectly and look fabulous, too.

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3. Visually Show Data With Charts

For data-heavy spreadsheets, you can make your results simpler to read and understand with charts. Google Sheets has you covered with almost 20 types of charts to choose from. So, for instance, you can create a line graph to show off this month’s sales results or put together a timeline to lay out the schedule for a project you’re working on with a team.

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4. Sync Up Your Docs for Easy Updating

Let’s say you want to create a Google Slides presentation or Google Docs one-sheeter summarizing some of the data in your spreadsheet. If you link a chart or table in those places to your Google spreadsheet, when you change anything in Sheets, it will immediately be updated in Slides or Docs, saving you from having to copy and paste new data or create an entirely new graph. So convenient!

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5. Display Numbers in the Way That Makes Sense for You

I’m a big fan of the Google Sheets feature for adding custom formatting to numbers, dates, and currencies. It’s super simple, but it basically allows you to choose what format numbers are displayed in. For example, you could have a date be displayed as 7/22/2019 or July 22, 2019 or 7/22—whichever option you prefer. To access this, all you have to do is select the cell or row or column of cells you want to change and click the “123” icon at the top of your document (or choose Format > Number).

I find this especially helpful when filling out timesheets. I can have “1 hour and 20 minutes” be displayed to show how much time I spent on a specific project (instead of the confusing “1:20” I’d see without formatting), but when I go to add up all my time slots it can still calculate my total hours for the week, even with the text included with the numbers.

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6. Use Conditional Formatting to Mark Key Data Points

Conditional formatting should be your go-to tool for highlighting certain trends and patterns in your data. This function automatically changes the text size, text color, or background color of a cell when it matches a condition you set.

For example, you can have increases in user traffic to your site automatically highlighted in green and decreases in red so everyone can quickly see what’s going on without having to think about the numbers themselves.

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7. Limit a User’s Access

You’ve probably shared a Google Sheet before, but did you know that you can stop or limit sharing with certain individuals, even giving them a timeframe as to when they have access to the spreadsheet? This is perfect for when you’re collaborating on a project with someone outside your organization or when you’re sharing sensitive information that you don’t want the person to be able to look at indefinitely.

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8. Manage Your Notifications to Be Alerted When Someone Makes Changes

To keep track of any activity that’s not yours, turn on notifications to be alerted via email when someone makes changes to your spreadsheet. Google Sheets also allows you to decide if you want emails immediately for each change or a daily summary of changes. This can be a great way for managers to keep track of what their team is up to, such as whether they’ve filed their travel expenses or submitted their feedback for the latest project proposal.

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9. Quickly Assign Action Items to Specific People

If you want to assign a task in a spreadsheet to someone you’ve shared the Sheet with, you can tag their email address (by typing “@[their email]”) when adding a comment to a cell. (If you write their name in a comment, sometimes Google Sheets will also suggest tagging them for you.) Your collaborator will then be sent an email about the task. When they open the shared doc, they’ll also see any action items assigned to them in the top right corner of the document and they can easily reply or mark the items as done. Just think: No more back and forth in Slack asking your teammate for those numbers you need for tomorrow’s report—they can just be alerted to go straight to the document and plug ’em in.

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10. Use a Filter to Get Through Long Sheets of Data

One of my favorite ways to manage a spreadsheet with loads of data is to use the filter view, which lets you see only the data you need for any specific purpose.

This can be super helpful when, for example, you’re looking at the company budget and want to see only the numbers for your own team. It’s so much simpler than combing through all those rows and columns, and lets you focus on the information you need without actually changing the shared spreadsheet (which could annoy your colleagues in other departments).

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11. Make a Macro to Do Repetitive Tasks

Macros, a relatively new addition to Google Sheets, speed up calculations by allowing you to record a set of actions and then run them with one click or keyboard shortcut. If you’re a social media manager, for example, you could set up a macro to quickly sort your posts for the week in order of most likes, most shares, or most comments by just pressing a couple buttons on your keyboard.

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12. Format Spreadsheets Fast With Pre-made Templates

Fun fact you may or may not have known about: Google Sheets does a lot of the work for you by providing templates. By enabling templates from the Settings option of your Google Sheets homepage and choosing “Template gallery,” you’ll see you have your choice of ready-made models for expense reports, invoices, schedules, dashboards, and more. No more having to create your own spreadsheet from scratch!

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