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Long ago, productivity enthusiasts were relegated to using desktop software for writing documents or organizing with spreadsheets. Thanks to the advance of the Internet and cloud computing, there are now wonderful products like Google Drive to enhance daily productivity.
What makes services like Google Drive so great? Mostly it’s just the sheer number of purposes the products found there can have. You can develop some really impressive money management tools, collect your research and ideas, and also automate with your other services like Gmail.
They key here is to put things like Google Spreadsheet and Google Docs to good use in your life, and the best way to do that is to enhance those services with some of the best add-ons available.
Google Docs and Google Spreadsheet are both amazing free services as-is, but when you include some of the add-ons listed below, it can really breathe new life into those tools. To get to any of these, all you have to do is go into Google Spreadsheet or Docs, click on the “Add-ons” menu, and then choose “Get Add-ons”.
AbleBits is a company that actually offers paid professional add-ons for Microsoft Excel. They provide timesaving features like merging sheets based on only matching data, easily merging multiple workbooks into one, and much more.
Lucky for Google Drive users, Ablebits offers a whole list of highly useful Add-ons for Google Drive apps. Six of them, to be exact.
You may have a use for some of the more specialized ones like splitting people’s names into several columns (Split Names), or randomly generating passwords into any range (Random Generator), but one of the most useful add-ons available is definitely the Advanced Find and Replace tool.
Ablebits Find and Replace lets you do some really advanced find and replace sort of manipulation in your spreadsheet. It allows you to search not only values, but also search inside notes or formulas in a sheet. You can also select specific sheet names, or you can search just the active sheet, or all of the sheets in your workbook.
Another really useful Ablebits add-on is the Merge Values tool, which lets you do some really creative manipulation with data inside different columns, and places the final results in whatever results column you tell it to.
In Excel, or any other spreadsheet, that kind of manipulation can require some more advanced string formulas, but with this add-on, even less advanced users can start easily mixing and combining data from different columns with minimal effort.
There’s also the Ablebits Remove Duplicates add-on, which lets you either find duplicate or unique values inside the active sheet, or it lets you do a comparison between two sheets for any duplicates.
If you choose to find duplicates, the add-on takes you through a wizard to select the range and data that you want to search through.
Then, it lets you define exactly what sort of data you’re looking to identify. This could be all duplicates inside a sheet, or it could be finding which values inside the sheet actually don’t match other values, or are unique.
Obviously, finding duplicates is the more common use, but there are times when you have a sheet filled with identical values and you may be looking for a typo or a unique value within the columns of matching data.
If you are more interested in checking to see whether there are any differences between two sheets — for instance, if you’ve made a copy of a sheet and are concerned someone made some changes to it — you can use this feature to find any new values or changes between those two sheets using the “Unique values” option.
As you can imagine, being able to quickly identify the differences between two sheets, or finding duplicate and unique values inside of a specific sheet, are really features that any good spreadsheet should have. Ablebits brings that functionality to Google Spreadsheet.
Another favorite Google Drive add-on of mine is definitely Mapping Sheets. With this add-on, you can make better use of any geographical data you may have in your spreadsheet. If you’ve ever wanted an easy way to quickly plot locations from your data onto a Google Map, this is it.
Using it is ridiculously easy. Just make sure you’ve got a list of addresses and other related data in your sheet, and then trigger this add-on. You’ll see a form where you tell it what columns in your sheet to use for creating the map.
Once you submit it, the add-on creates the map right in the sheet for you so that you have a useful visualization of all of that data.
EasyBib Bibliography Creator
Whether you’re a student, a journalist, or just a freelance writer, you would want to make use of the Easybib Bibliography Creator add-on for Google Docs. The name isn’t a misnomer. This add-on makes creating a bibliography really simple.
It includes a built-in search engine for books, journals or websites.
Once you find what you’re looking for in the results, just click the select button and then the “Add Bibliography to Doc” button.
This inserts your citation utilizing the correct MLA, APA and Chicago styles as needed. If you’ve struggled to get bibliography formatting done right, or you just struggle with the formatting, then this is the add-on for you.
Do you work on a team where everyone is located remotely, or maybe a corporation where there are offices all around the world? A frequent need in many projects is document approvals. This is usually as simple as a boss assigning someone to write up a guide, a specification or some other important document, and then turn it in on a certain date for review and approval. In Google Drive there’s a really easy to use add-on for Google Docs called Workflows that greatly simplifies the document approval process.
It’s called Workflow, because it essentially lets you run the document through a workflow of recipients, who will each have a turn to edit the draft and approve the document. Once each stage of the approval workflow completes, the recipient for the next stage receives an email, prompting them to go in, review, and approve.
The approval process can be as simple as writing in a few notes (if desired), and then clicking either the “Approve” or “Reject” button.
Once it’s approved, the originator receives notification that the approval took place.
In the Google Doc itself, Workflow displays the approval status. If there are multiple people who need to approve it, it’ll show you how many of those people have approved the document so far.
In the old days, documents had to be physically run around the office building (or through the mail) so that people could sign off on the final version. Now with Google Docs and the Workflow add-on, it’s all digitized and can take place in the blink of an eye.
Messenger — Group Messaging for Documents
Speaking of remote collaboration, the last add-on covered here also helps you keep in touch with team members from around the globe. The Messenger add-on is an instant messaging tool that gets integrated directly into Google Docs. You can use it as a really easy way to have a live, real-time conversation with someone while you’re both editing a document.
The benefit of this is obvious if you’ve ever tried to edit a document with someone when you don’t have some kind of instant chat available. You end up overwriting each other’s work accidentally, or both typing the same thing at the same time. Collaborative writing can be a very productive activity, but without an IM feature it can be difficult. Most people resort to using Google Hangouts or Skype for that feature. However, if you install the Messenger add-on, you don’t need to run a third party application. The whole conversation can take place in your browser, inside Google Drive.
So what do you think — do any of these Google Drive add-ons look especially useful to you? Do you use any others that you think other people would find helpful? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments section below!