Using Airtable: A Beginner’s Guide

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Airtable is a cloud-based application that combines the best of both spreadsheets and databases in a collaborative environment.

No matter the to-do list or the project, you can use Airtable to manage just about anything. Whether you need a way to organize your tasks or want to be able to work with others on a project without the need for collaboration software, Airtable can be your ideal organizational tool.

Where apps like Notion take a freeform approach to information management, structure is at the heart of Airtable. But don’t let that fool you – Airtable’s feature set, flexible data types, and automations are incredibly powerful.

To see advanced Airtable usage in action, learn how to create interactive Gantt charts using Airtable as a CMS, Gatsby, and React.

This airtable tutorial will walk you through everything this tool has to offer and explain how it can make your life easier. First, let’s go through Airtable’s basic organizational structures and vocabulary.

Master the basics of Airtable

1. Set up bases in your team’s workspace.

Think of your team’s office as a workspace. Within this office there are likely to be multiple departments or even teams with various ongoing projects. Each project in real life is a separate base in Airtable.

Why are projects called “bases” in Airtable? Short for databases, each project is designed to hold a set of information. Airtable comes with ready-made templates and gives you access to the Airtable universe with other designed templates. You can always upload a spreadsheet for a simple base, or even design your own base from scratch.

Airtable team bases

Depending on how big or small your team is, or how many projects you have in play, you can opt for several different workspaces in your company. That’s perfectly fine, and actually speaks to another feature of Airtable: it’s fully customizable and can fit into your structure and workflow. Airtable bends to your needs.

2. Then set up spreadsheets and records within a base.

Airtable new base

Within airtable bases you will find tables or lists of a specific type of thing. You may have a table of tasks or a table of contacts. Each entry in the table is called a record, and each record is associated with a set of attributes called fields. Each level of organization we just listed – table, record, and field – is fully customizable. You can choose every aspect of what is stored in Airtable.

3. Choose or your view – or switch between the views that work best.

Airtable lets you view your datasets in countless ways, including grids, galleries, kanban boards, calendars, and more.

Airtable base calendar view

The flexibility of perspective on the information you store in Airtable can help you see things in a new light, inspire new ideas, or spot trends. Regardless, having access to these different views reinforces how Airtable lets you customize everything to suit your workflow.

These views can also help you construct the logic that will help you relate records across your database.

4. Graduate to Airtable Apps.

Pro and enterprise-level Airtable plans get access to apps that provide advanced visualizations (like pivot table automation, maps, and even videos), as well as integrations with other apps like Google Cloud and third-party plugins.

Airtable apps

You might need an API key from these other services, but that’s getting easier every day as most major business platforms and tools open up to developers.

5. Add employees.

You can invite others to join your base or workspace as collaborators. There are different levels of access you can grant to each collaborator, from read-only access to the ability to create your own new bases.

Meet Airtable’s most popular features

So far in this Airtable guide we have introduced you to the basic structures and terminology related to Airtable. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at some of the coolest features it offers.

Create spreadsheets across different media.

Insert images into your spreadsheet and make them accessible across sheets! Airtable takes spreadsheets and blows them up completely, so they’re no longer boring strings of strictly alphanumeric characters. Many people who hate traditional spreadsheets are uncomfortable with all those letters and numbers thrown their way.

Use import tools to standardize your data

Gathering information from multiple sources has never been easier than with Airtable. Automatic import tools let you pull data with full control over what fields it fills and how it’s formatted. Even if you have a lot of data scattered across multiple locations and documented in different ways, you can use Airtable’s import feature to bring everything together in one place for your team.

Color coding and other organization for better compliance

The best organizational techniques and rules are the ones that work, but it can be difficult to onboard groups of people with institutional systems when they’re feeling awkward. Luckily, Airtable’s interface is user-friendly, and the options you have for customization can make Airtable easier to understand than other tools like spreadsheets.

Create relationships between objects in different tables

This needs to be repeated as it is such a powerful feature of Airtable. Not only does it save time and ensure consistent records across users, bases, and workspaces, but it’s also more consistent with real-world logic.

Airtable linked fields

Objects and people in the real world exist in a central place, although their presence as part of the various teams and other groups in which they exist is important. There is no separate copy of you operating within your family unit opposite your office; It’s the same as you, only accessed in different environments. Why shouldn’t the same apply to your data? Well, with Airtable it is.

Stop looking at your data in terms of linear relationships; that’s old school. Today’s world is all about information networks and easily navigating the relationships that exist between pieces of data.

Fully customize your notifications

You can actually use third-party integrations like Zapier to build workflows within Airtable. Certain actions or inputs can trigger other events. Maybe you’ve set up a calendar base and want to know when someone adds an upcoming event; You can set up an alert to share as much or as little about this entry as you like, through whatever medium you prefer.

Automate backups of your data

Save time and protect your information for the future by creating workflows that automatically trigger backups. You can save these backups wherever you want. By removing the human element behind this backup step, you reduce the potential impact of human error and increase the likelihood of positive long-term outcomes.

There is no “one size fits all”.

Having so much power to customize absolutely every aspect of your data storage and organization may seem overwhelming. But with that responsibility comes the power to maximize your efficiency and fully streamline your team’s workflow.

Leverage the support of the Airtable community

Everyone knows there’s a learning curve to getting started with Airtable, but even the most experienced users can get stuck on how to make something. And even when you’ve found a way to do something, you might want to find out if there’s a better way.

Fortunately, the collaborative and growth-oriented spirit behind the Airtable product extends to the entire user community. It’s like having a huge database (see what we made there?) of airtable developers at your fingertips. You can search existing discussions or post your own questions to get the insights you want. Airtable moderates, and you’ll see them chime in with their “official” perspective.

Of course, Airtable’s product development teams work hard to keep getting better. As you use Airtable, you’ll discover all sorts of new features that are beyond the scope of this article and may even have just gone live.

You will also find new ways to organize yourself and the data you need. Finally, you can seamlessly integrate mastery of data management and collaboration into your business processes.

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