Tech Tips for Productivity Newsletter
As a manager, building an Airtable base that can smoothly scale to your entire team and beyond is a challenge that reaps many rewards in the end. To achieve the best results and save you time, there are a few keys you should know before getting started.
In this guide, we give you 10 best practices to make deploying your first Airtable base effective, efficient, and fun.
Take the time to design your bases thoroughly before building them.
Don’t try to boil the ocean.
Name things in Airtable like you’re naming your child.
Create a new table for each distinct type of data that you’re storing.
Don’t forget about junction tables.
Use a linked record field pointing to a table of “Team Members” instead of the Collaborator field.
Document your new system and processes starting at the very beginning.
Use views to easily access the data that you regularly need to reference.
Enforce higher quality data entry with Forms.
Group records for greater clarity.
You’re no longer hacking together a Google spreadsheet, you’re designing a robust database that will serve as the backend for a business app your team will depend on for months and years into the future. It’s worth taking an extra week to dot your I’s and cross your T’s when it comes to the design phase of this process.
Consider creating a database Entity Relationship Diagram with Miro to ensure you’ve got a clear understanding of the big picture of what you’re building and then run it by your team to get their opinions.
Also try Airtable’s Base Schema extension as you build to visualize the relationships of your tables and fields as you build.
Be deliberate about this step, but don’t feel like you need to think of every possible field your base will need just yet. As long as you’re at least about 80% clear on the primary types of data you’ll be storing and how they interact, feel free to start building.
It’s easy for things to get out of hand when building your first few bases – you can easily get over excited and create fields to store almost any and everything.
Refrain from overdoing it at first and instead start off simple. Design the basic structure of your base, release it into the wild, and iterate at a steady pace once you’ve had a chance to get real-world feedback on how well it fits into your daily workflows.
Give your bases, tables, fields, field options, and views meaningful names that will be easily understood by anyone else who works in your base.
Create concise but descriptive names that enforce an obvious naming pattern.
Try capitalizing names the same way you would capitalize the name of a book or movie.
If you’re developing a database that you expect to be used via API, consider using camel case naming so that your Airtable elements can be easily accessed and interpreted in code.
Try thinking of each table as a list of nouns – each item in the table is a person, place, or thing (generally speaking).
When creating a table, think of this in your head “This is a table of ____”. If what you fill in the blank doesn’t make grammatical sense, it may not be the best name to use.
Be specific with your naming but not too specific – for items that are more or less structurally the same, create a single table for them and add a new field to store the information that varies between them.
Ex: if you have one table of “2021 Events” and another of “2022 Events”, these tables likely have 99% of the same structure and can be consolidated in one table with a single select field for “Year” with options of “2021” or “2022”.
Junction tables are tables that have the sole purpose of storing the relationship between two other tables.
For example, you have a table of “Students” and a table of “Teachers”. Students relate to Teachers, but not directly. Each Student has a list of Classes, and each Class has a Teacher. To connect Students and Teachers, you’ll want to create a third table called “Classes” to store the Class’s Teacher as well as a list of Students.
This allows you to link your team members to items in other tables like tasks, projects, and documents more efficiently by showing every record they’re linked to from one single table.
Your Airtable system will quickly grow in complexity, and it’s much simpler to start documenting your key workflows at the beginning rather than 6 months down the line when your 5 new hires need to know how to run your business from a tool they’ve never even heard of.
Consider using tools like Loom, Notion, tango.us, or others to clearly document your workflows.
Be sure to update your documentation periodically because there’s a high chance your process will change.
Views are different ways of looking at your full dataset. They have a saved configuration of visible fields, filters, groups, and sorts.
They allow you to visualize the same set of data in many different ways, including on a calendar, in a timeline, on a gantt chart, on a kanban board, or in a gallery card view.
Create Personal Views to go crazy with your views without cluttering up anyone else’s workspace.
Forms are a fantastic tool to constrain what kind of information gets put into your database and you should use them where possible.
Make sure to use required fields so that you know that every new record will have the most essential fields included at the time of creation.
Group records in views like the Grid view, Timeline view, and Gantt view.
This will give you the ability to quickly jump to the records of most relevance to you.
This will also allow you to summarize data about those grouped records via the Summary Bar in a fraction of the time that you could in a tool like Excel.
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