How to Use Airtable: A Beginner’s Guide

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

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

Where apps like Notion take a free-form 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 with Airtable as CMS, Gatsby, and React.

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

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 probably several departments or even teams with various projects going on. Each project in real life is a separate base in Airtable.

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

Airtable Team Bases

Depending on the size of your team or the number of projects in progress, you can choose to have several different workspaces within your company. That’s absolutely correct, and actually speaks to another feature of Airtable: it’s fully customizable, able to fit into your structure and workflow. The air table folds to meet your needs.

2. Next, configure tables and records within a database.

Airtable new base

Inside the Airtable bases, you will find tables or lists of a certain type of thing. You can have a task board or a contact board. Each entry in the table is called a record, and each record is associated with a set of attributes called fields. Each layer 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 your view or switch between what works best.

Airtable lets you view your records in countless ways, including grids, galleries, Kanban boards, timelines, and more.

Basic Airtable 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 give visibility to trends. Either way, having access to these different views again reinforces how Airtable lets you customize everything to suit your workflow.

These views can also help you build the logic that helps you link the records in your database.

4. Switch to Airtable apps.

Airtable Pro and Enterprise level plans have access to the apps, which help with more advanced visualizations (like automating pivot tables, maps, and even videos) as well as integrations into other apps, like Google Cloud, and third-party plug-ins.

Airtable Apps

You may need an API key from these other services, but it’s getting easier day by day as most major platforms and commercial tools are opening up to developers.

5. Add collaborators.

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

Enjoy the most popular features of Airtable

So far in this Airtable guide, we have familiarized you with the basic structures and terms associated with Airtable. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at some of the coolest features it offers.

Create spreadsheets on different media.

Place images in your spreadsheet and make them accessible on all sheets! Airtable takes spreadsheets and completely explodes them, so they are no longer boring rows of strictly alphanumeric characters. Many people who hate conventional spreadsheets aren’t comfortable with all those letters and numbers thrown their way.

Take advantage of import tools to standardize your data

Gathering information from multiple sources has never been easier than with Airtable. Automatic import tools allow you to extract data, with full control over the fields they populate and their formatting. Even if you have a lot of data scattered in multiple places and documented in different ways, you can use Airtable’s import feature to bring it all together in a one-stop-shop for your team.

Color code and other organization for better compliance

The best organizing techniques and rules are those that work, but integrating groups of people into institutional systems can be difficult if they feel cumbersome. Luckily, the Airtable interface is user-friendly and the options you have for customization can make Airtable easier to follow than other tools like spreadsheets.

Create relationships between objects in different tables

This bears repeating because it is such a powerful feature of Airtable. Not only does this save time and ensure consistent records across users, databases, and workspaces, but it’s also more consistent with real-world logic.

Fields linked to the aerial table

Real-world objects and people exist in a central location, though their presence is important as part of the various teams and other groups in which they exist. There is not a separate copy of you operating within your family unit versus your office; it’s the same as you, just accessible in different environments. Why shouldn’t your data be the same? Well, with Airtable it is.

Stop thinking of your data in terms of linear relationships; it’s old school. These days it’s all about networks of information and easily navigating the relationships that exist between separate pieces of data.

Fully customize your notifications

You can actually use third-party integrations like Zapier to create workflows in Airtable. Some 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 a notification that can share as much or as little as you want on that entry, via whatever medium you prefer.

Automate your data backups

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

There is no “one size fits all”.

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

Leverage Airtable community support

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

Fortunately, the collaborative and growth-oriented spirit behind the Airtable product extends to its entire community of users. It’s like having a huge database (see what we did there?) of Airtable developers at your beck and call. You can browse existing threads or post your own questions to get the information you need. Airtable moderated, and so you’ll see them chiming in with their “official” view.

Of course, Airtable’s product development teams work hard to ensure it is constantly improving. By using Airtable, you will discover all sorts of new features beyond the scope of this article, and which might even go live.

You’ll also think of new ways to organize yourself and the data you need. Finally, you can seamlessly integrate mastery of data management and collaboration into your business operations.

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