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The humble spreadsheet was originally designed for organizing data in tabular form. Spreadsheets are still primarily used for crunching numbers, but they're also often used for lists. Whether you're keeping track of inventory, creating a database of contacts, or making a quick editorial calendar, a spreadsheet's layout is perfect for organizing stuff. They're a quick and easy solution that anyone can use.
Smartsheet is an online spreadsheet specifically designed for these extra tasks. It's equally good at tracking both numbers and non-numeric data, with collaborative features built in.
The Smartsheet workflow is based around templates. You can create a blank sheet, but the library of presets is impressively extensive, covering a variety of use cases, from IT projects and client management, to law and finance, sales sheets, and just a plain to-do list. Your newly created document lives in a tab of its own within your dashboard, along with tabs for any other spreadsheets you may have open. This arrangement means you can easily flick between various sheets, as well as go back to the inbox-like Home page.
Editing a spreadsheet is a largely familiar process, with a few added extras. If you use a template, the columns come with titles and display formats. A basic task list, for instance, has space for the name and due date of each item, along with the person it is assigned to, and further comments. You can add rows and columns as you please, while the left-hand menu provides text formatting tools, along with access to cell linking, formula creation, export options, and the ability to switch views.
At the start of each row, more options can be selected: you can choose to attach a file to a particular row, start a discussion on that item, and schedule an email reminder if the task has a due date. If you use any of these features, an icon appears in the row as a reminder.
These functions are more easily accessed through the menu at the bottom of your document, where you will also find a form builder. This allows you to embed a form in your website, with every submission being automatically added to a new row. This works beautifully for building a client list, or handling customer care requests. Aside from the standard sheet view, Smartsheet has other methods of displaying your data. If you create or select a template that includes start and end dates, one option is to view tasks in a Gantt chart. Alternatively, due dates can be put into context with the calendar view.
Teamwork is another important part of Smartsheet’s offering. As with most online office suites, you have full control over who can read and edit any of your documents, and the ability to send email invites. In your Home tab, Workspaces act as public folders — any sheet, discussion, or attachment you place inside can be viewed by your chosen colleagues.
The Home tab is where you will find two more useful areas: Reports and Dashboard. Reports let you search through your account and create a new document from individual rows in your spreadsheets, summarizing important info and giving you a quick way to show how things are going. Dashboards, on the other hand, provides the broadest of overviews, detailing every row you have favorited, every new spreadsheet created, and reminders coming up in the calendar. They're a great way to see everything that's going on throughout your account.
Along with the standalone online platform, Smartsheet has add-ons that allow you to edit your documents from within the Office 365 version of Outlook, and hook up contacts with Azure Active Directory. That way, it can be an extra spreadsheet tool that works alongside your existing Microsoft Office documents.
Smartsheets aren't just your standard spreadsheet. Sure, you could use them to tabulate numbers and list data, but it's view options make it much better for the to-do list, project management, scheduling and other functions we tend to force onto other spreadsheet apps. It's a spreadsheet for all the other things—a versatile way to organize data and view it in the way you want.
Originally published December 21, 2015; updated June 18, 2018 with new screenshots, pricing, and features