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7 ways to use Google Sheets 📊
Plus 10 new alternatives for making the most of spreadsheets even if you're not a "numbers person"
You don’t have to be in business to find Google Sheets useful. If you’re not a numbers person, though, it helps to know which features are worth trying. Read on for simple ways to glean insights from your data and some emerging spreadsheet tools.
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1. Get a quick summary of a column 📊
Problem: Reams of data can be hard to digest, analyze and make sense of.
Solution: Highlight columns and select Data > Column Stats. Google’s AI will summarize the data and provide quick insights.
Benefit: Spot patterns you might have missed and share an overview with colleagues.
Example: This feature recently summarized for me the number of applicants from various countries in a sheet generated from an application form.
2. Clean up messy cells 🧹
Problem: Typos, extra white space or other data glitches can mess up a sheet.
Solution: Select columns and choose Data > Data Cleanup > Cleanup Suggestions
Benefit: You’ll get a list of proposed quick fixes. I like that you can examine the suggested adjustments before accepting any or all of them.
3. Remove duplicates 👯♂️
Problem: Multiple versions of the same data sometimes creep into a sheet, as when someone accidentally submits a form twice.
Solution: Select columns and then Data > Data Cleanup > Remove Duplicates
Benefit: Ensure that double entries don’t distort your data.
4. Apply conditional formatting to add color to data 🟩🟨🟥
Problem: It’s hard to spot patterns in raw numbers.
Solution: Turn cells a particular color if they meet a certain condition.
Benefit: See patterns, outliers and problem spots automatically highlighted. Colors applied automatically transform an undifferentiated number blob into something your eyes can digest at a glance. Here’s Google’s explanation and gif demo.
Example: On a grading sheet you can turn cells red if the score is below 80; yellow if 81-90; and green if 91-100. Or use a parallel color scheme for your monthly budget.
5. Run fast free simulations with Causal
Problem: Predicting what might happen is hard. Running simulations usually requires complex software.
Solution: Use Causal’s simulator — a simple free Google Sheets add-on — to explore scenarios within your spreadsheet.
Benefit: Streamline decision-making with an overview of possible outcomes.
Example: See what will happen to subscription revenue if the market tanks or if interest skyrockets.
6. Update people when a spreadsheet changes
Problem: It’s time-consuming to manually email out spreadsheet updates weekly.
Solution: Use Email Spreadsheets — an add-on for Google Sheets — to automatically send your spreadsheets on a recurring schedule.
Benefit: Keep everyone up to date on data without wasting time on a clerical task.
Example: Send sales totals — or subscriber numbers — automatically to everyone’s inbox on Monday mornings.
7. Use Sheets to send personalized emails
Problem: Sending custom messages to lots of people can be time-consuming.
Solution: Use Postsheet to send personalized emails or even text messages from your Google Sheet or Airtable. It’s free for up to 100 emails a month, or $9 to $99 depending on whether you need 1,000 or 100,000 sends per month.
Benefit: Use a single spreadsheet to send personalized messages to a big group efficiently, freeing up time for more creative projects or a walk in the park.
A Free Alternative Approach: Google’s Martin Hawksey outlined a simple free way to run a mail merge in Google Sheets using Gmail.
👉 Want more? Read my related post on more ways to make the most of Google Sheets 🧑🏻💻
Leave a comment to share a spreadsheet tip or a favorite sheet👇
Google Sheets Alternatives
Check out this post I wrote about Airtable, a great alternative to sheets that is easy and even fun to use. It adds database features to spreadsheets and lets you present information and tables elegantly and professionally. Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, came up with an Airtable alternative called Google Tables.
Zoho Sheets’s latest version has artificial intelligence built-in. It lets you ask questions about your data. Google Sheets can do some of this as well now, with its explore tool. Here’s more about that.
Example: Ask something like "Total sales in September 2022?" if you have a sales column and a column with dates.
I wrote about how you can use Glide to create simple apps from your Google Sheets. These let people look up information in your sheet or interact with it. Bonus: the sheets can feature people, places, and things, not just numbers.
Rows.com integrates your data from services like Mailchimp or Salesforce, and can then export it to live dashboards. I’m looking forward to testing this further.
Actiondesk has related functionality, and can merge live data from multiple sources and export scheduled reports to email or Slack. Too business-y for me.
I’m looking forward to testing Grid.is to make interactive visualizations out of sheet data. The service aims to give your numbers a narrative.
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Ben Collins shares a weekly tip in his Google Sheets newsletter, which now reaches 50,000 subscribers. That’s a lot of sheets devotees, right?
You’re invited! Join me for the Journalism Creator Summit I’m co-hosting live online at 11 am ET on Fri, Nov 4. Newsletter writers + podcasters will share how they survive, grow & thrive, along with mistakes made, lessons learned and tactics you can apply. We’ll share six related case studies we’re launching at the Newmark J-School.