Excel or Google Sheets, Maybe Use a Next Gen Tool Like Coda Instead

As a brief reminder, Misty and I were working our way through Microsoft Excel 2019 Data Analysis and Business Modeling (6th Edition) (Business Skills) 6th Edition by Wayne Winston. I had the idea to compare the things we learned in Excel to Google Sheets and Jupyter Notebooks. However, the book was not as good as we had hoped, we both became very busy at work and have not returned to it after we completed the first 3 chapters.

A Revelation

I had spent a good deal of time writing up the next part of this article because I wanted to help those who are new to using spreadsheet tools learn a little more about how helpful they can be. Then it hit me, everyday, I use a fantastic tool called Coda. I use it in both my personal and professional life to take notes, track my time/progress on projects and tasks, and for some product management tasks I have been doing.

What is Coda?

I came across Coda a number of years ago when it was in an invite only beta. It was created by two entrepreneurs, who had experience working at Microsoft and Google. They had learned that are many great things about Excel, Google Sheets, Word, Google Docs, Trello and other applications. They thought what if you could take most of the best things about all of those and put them in one place? Well ,that’s what Coda does.

While are some similarities to apps like Notion, Slite, and Airtable, I have always preferred Coda because it was the easiest for me to pickup. All of these products are the next generation of working collaboratively with others on projects and the natural evolution of documents and spreadsheets.

What I love about Coda is the ability to have data tables and document text on the same page. I also like being able to access data across Coda docs an changing how it appears. The tables allow you to do many of the great things a spreadsheet does like basic and advanced functions, sorting, dropdown lists, conditional formatting and so on.

However, you can do so much more like create related tables, view the data in more visual ways like cards and charts, and access the data directly in the text itself. You can even do mathematical operations on the data in text, or filter data to just what you need.

This just scratches the surface of what Coda can do, but below are some the my uses-cases:

  • Kanban Board with time in activity tracking, color coding and charts
  • Product Management where I have user interviews and stories, product visions, prioritization tables, roadmaps and more
  • Notes from courses I have taken
  • Investment tracking. In the pro version you can pull in investment data directly.
Example where all Vanguard Prices are totaled in the text at the bottom.
Example where all Vanguard Prices are totaled in the text at the bottom.
Example where all Vanguard Prices are totaled in the text at the bottom in Coda.

In the first few chapters of the Excel book, we covered things like basic functions and named ranges for data. Named ranges are very powerful and act like a variable does in programming where you can refer to a cell or group of cells by a name you choose. In the example below, I have a table with customer data, and have called the table Customers.

A Table Named Customers
A Table Named Customers
A Table Named Customers

What was interesting to me was how something so simple and useful could be very difficult in the different versions of Excel or Google Sheets. In Coda, every table has a name and can be referred to by that name. Further you can also access the individual columns and rows in the table in other tables or text. This makes Coda much more powerful than just Excel or Sheets. There is so much more like embedding images/videos, using icons and amazing templates, but I’ll save that for another article.

The takeaway here is that Coda can do things that traditional spreadsheets and documents cannot. Therefore it’s worth a look, even if it’s for personal use, but especially if you are working with a team and you want to save time, give each person their own view of the data, and live in the next generation of documents.

Husband, Dog Dad, Educator, Technologist, Coach, Geek beninbeta.com

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