A more productive spreadsheet – Airtable

I would not have thought that a spreadsheet could organize my entire life. I’m lucky I heard about Airtable before I started using it. The descriptions reminded me of FileMakerPro, a Mac product that dates all the way back to the 80’s. It allowed you to build a set of relational databases that could instruct a computer to take care of almost any task that could be automated – schedule, correspondence, bookkeeping, notes, and maybe even person-to-person communication. The problem was that it was hard to build, and the secondary market of builders was expensive. FileMakerPro reached maturity in the 90’s when Macs weren’t doing very well and it could only be run on a Mac.

Airtable reminds me of FileMaker because it is a platform, a tool that builds tools. By starting with a spreadsheet work environment, Airtable simply allows for the inflow, organization, and presentation of a limitless amount of data. It is cross-platform and updates in real-time. There is no ‘syncing.’ Once you move up to the premium subscription service, you have access to a community of development (the builders) who can provide you with an airtable environment that is tailored to your specific need, from a grocery list to a group of “bases” (Airtable’s name for each spreadsheet) that can run a business.

But the community is not just offering designs. It is also providing ‘blocks’ which are essentially apps that integrate seamlessly with any part of your base. What do blocks do? There is one that provides SMS chat, so all the conversations are literally attached to the subject/project. No need to open a slack channel. There are the usual suspects, including maps, charts, calendars and translation. The point is that being able to drag and drop these functions into different parts of your database allows for infinite customization by anyone.

There is a learning curve, and that’s part of the allure. The very concept of this kind of tool takes a minute to get your head around. You don’t conform your particular workflow to an existing productivity tool. Instead, you change your way of thinking by asking: if I could accomplish this endeavor in any manner (short of just snapping my fingers), how would I want to get this done? That’s a pretty liberating way to start a big project.

With Airtable you have one place for all the data, with relational communication and automation. The community provides templates (even for non-paying customers) to get you started, but the best thing to do is start playing around with it yourself. If you’ve ever had the thought, “there is a better way for this productivity software to work,” Airtable gives you the tools to make it happen.

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