Have you struggled with multiple workstations, laptops, mobile devices and having access to a certain document? Do you share documents and spreadsheets with teams of people? Do you ask for feedback on projects from people all over the globe?

If you do I have solution for you that doesn’t even cost a dime to use.

Google Docs

Okay, okay, I heard the groans even across the Internet. Google Docs hasn’t enjoyed a good reputation as a replacement for Microsoft Office or even Open Office. I am not talking about using Google Docs as your word processing software. I use both MS Office and Open Office to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. If you are a heavy user of office type applications you really have to have some sort of desktop software.

What I am talking about is using Google Docs as a supplement to your desktop applications. Used in the right way, Google Docs can provide assess to your documents while at home, at the office, traveling, anywhere with an Internet connection. It also is a great way to collaborate with people, sharing items, getting feedback.

There are other collaboration tools out there.  Dropbox, Syncplicity are some. They are good for techie people who understand what is expected of them. I have found when I want to share with non-techies, they run into problems with tools like these. Also they have a free and professional versions. If you are using them for anything concerning a business, you should consider paying for it so as not to run afoul of the terms and conditions.

Getting Started

Of course you need a Google account to use Google Docs. If you don’t have one already, just go to google.com and sign up. Once you have your account you can access Documents by clicking on the tab on the top of the screen. This will take you to your home screen.

Collections

The key to using Google Docs in understanding collections. Collections are the same as file folders in Google Docs. Each collections holds a number of other things. A collection can hold multiple documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or even other collections. A collection can hold multiple types of items, a couple documents, a spreadsheets and a few other collections. This is just like file folders in an operating system.

I use collections to hold like items so that they are grouped together and I can share them to whoever I want. You will collections on your home Google Docs screen on the left side. There will be a listing of your collections and collections shared with you.

Get ‘Er Done Easily

I discovered that the best way to get your documents into Google Docs is to create folders on your workstation, put in the items you want access to and then upload them as collections to Google Docs. I struggled for a long time trying to upload the documents one at a time, create the collections on  Google Docs and then then put the items into the collections. Don’t do that. It is really clunky. You can do it all on your workstation in a matter of minutes, upload it and then have access to them anywhere you go.

Sharing and Feedback

The other cool use for Google Docs is to share things with people. You can either share collections or individual items. The easy way that I use to share is to right click on the item.  This will allow you to select Share and then click Share again. This brings up the Sharing settings box. At this point, you have a couple of choices. You can share directly with people using their email address. Just type in the address in the box “Add people”. They will get an email giving them access to the item. Another way is to use a link. At the top of the Sharing settings box, click Change to change type of access. Select anyone with the link to get access to a link that will take someone to your item. You also have the choice to give them the ability to edit the document.

By using a link with edit permission, you can share a document on Facebook, Twitter, etc and ask for comments on whatever you are working on. What a great way to get feedback! People can use the insert comments feature to give you all the feedback you want. Just make sure you have a backup copy in case someone changes the document beyond recognition.

Housekeeping

Finally, to keep clutter down, use collections to keep individual items from clogging up your homepage in Google Docs. Select the individual items and then click More at the top. Select Don’t Show in Home to hide them from your home page. You will still find the items in the collections and it keeps your homepage much more manageable.

Simple, Fast, Free

Using Google Docs in the way that I have described meets my prerequisites for a top of the line productivity tool – simple, fast, and cheap (free). It is a great tool to have in your tool bag. I only see the use of Gmail and Google Docs growing.

Why not start using it and benefit from the increased productivity?

(Photo credit: Electonic News on the Internet via Shutterstock)

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