Technology Nuts for Blind Squirrels: Google Docs

As technology becomes more infused into every profession, some of us who have been in the recreation field for “a while” find ourselves having to explore the wonders of technology on our own. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know. This post is part of a series about technology tools I have stumbled upon that have proven to be the most useful in my job.


Every story has a beginning. Mine starts with Google Docs (also called Google Drive). I have been using Google Docs now for over two years, and it’s almost inconceivable to me that there might be someone who hasn’t used Google Docs for something. However, it seems that every day I hear about more and more recreation centers that are just starting to use tablets, and who want to know the same information that I had to discover on my own. So I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t include basic information about Google Docs in this series.

Google Docs has been hands-down my most important technology “discovery.” Performing and documenting facility checks in our recreation center is crucial to reduce risk and maintain a safe environment. Before I began using Google Docs, the paper that was generated by hourly, daily, and weekly checklists was becoming unmanageable. Then, a chance encounter changed my life.

The Miracle

Two years ago, our division’s IT guy poked his head into my office and saw me entering information into my computer from a pile of checklists that had accumulated over the past several weeks. He seemed dismayed over the quantity of paper, and mentioned that I might be able to keep the same records, yet go “paperless” using an iPad and forms I could create in Google Docs. I had never heard of it, so he explained that Google Docs is a free data storage service offered by Google that allows you to upload, create, and edit documents in “the cloud.” I was intrigued, so after he left I started experimenting with Google Docs to see if I could record the same information I was collecting on my checklists, but without using paper.

My first experiment was to recreate my facility’s opening checklist form on Google Docs. The process was easy and fast. When I finished creating the form, I filled it in with some fake information, and clicked the “submit” button.

Then a miracle occurred.

The information reappeared in an online spreadsheet, organized neatly into rows and columns, and included a time stamp from when I had clicked the “submit” button. I knew I was onto something. I started collaborating with my graduate assistants to come up with a plan to use Google Docs to replace our paper forms. In order to go paperless, we also incorporated the use of an iPad in conjunction with our facility’s wireless internet. Now, two years later, we are using Google Docs for facility checklists, CPR and First Aid skills checks, job skills checks, and communication with supervisors. And we’ve expanded our use of Google Drive to online training and working time entry, which I will visit in another post.

The Transformation

We started out by creating three Google Docs forms to replace the corresponding paper forms we used every day. As we began to use Google Docs, we discovered a number of advantages. Some advantages were anticipated, and some came as complete surprises.

1. No more paper!
The first advantage was the immediate reduction of paper use. By completing checklists online, we no longer needed a paper form. We still keep a few paper forms on file ready to use in case our internet is down, but in the two years since we started using the iPad we have never had to use any paper forms.

2. No more data entry!
The second advantage is the way the information is collected into a spreadsheet. I don’t have to transfer hand-written information into a spreadsheet on my computer, since the information is already there! The spreadsheet can also be shared with others in my department so they can access it at their leisure. Additionally, any spreadsheet can be made public, so that anyone can access it, whether or not they have a google account. That way statistical information can easily be shared with colleagues.

3. Access your data anywhere!
Another advantage of using Google Docs is that forms can be completed, and documents can be viewed, on multiple devices. That means that I can keep track of my information using desktop, laptop, or tablet computers, and most smart phones. Since I usually have my cell phone with me, I can check on what’s happening at any time, any place, as long as I have a data connection.

4. Better student employee engagement!
But my favorite and most surprising benefit of using Google Docs has been how thoroughly my student supervisors have embraced using the iPad and the forms. They love it. They are true millennials who are fascinated with technology, and good at using it. They love walking through the facility with an iPad strapped to their hand, using a cool online form to complete their checks. Plus, my communication with them has increased significantly with the implementation of a comments form. When supervisors have a suggestion, a concern, an employee problem, or they just want to let me know what a good job the staff is doing, they can send the information to me on a form.

Helpful Tips

1. If you want to use Google Docs for checklists, creating a form, rather than a spreadsheet, seems to work best. If you use a form, the information that is submitted still populates a spreadsheet, and the form can be shared with anyone without giving them access to the spreadsheet.

2. You can choose to be notified whenever a form is submitted, or whenever certain answers on the form are submitted. In the “Responses” spreadsheet associated with the form, choose Tools→Notification Rules→[select rules and how you want to be notified]

3. Create a Google Docs spreadsheet if you want to record employee skills checks. That way you can see who has or has not been tested. Change the “Share” option from “Private” to “Anyone with the link” so that no sign-in is required to access the spreadsheet.

4. Documents and presentations can also be created, and then shared with a group for collaboration.

5. Search YouTube for step-by-step instructions on creating forms. Be sure that the video was created sometime during 2013. Here is one good video.

Sample Forms and Spreadsheets

Here is a link to some sample forms and spreadsheets that I use on a daily basis. In order to see both the form and the associated spreadsheet, you must be signed in to your Google Docs account. These forms are “view only” but you can go to File→Make a Copy and use the newly created copy to edit for your own use.

Do you have a Google Docs form or spreadsheet that you find helpful in your work? If so, please share it with us! Provide a link in the “comments” section below, or make a copy and upload it to the “Copies” folder in the above link.


3 thoughts on “Technology Nuts for Blind Squirrels: Google Docs

  1. Thank you, Kathy, for taking the time to share all of this! It is really insightful and will hopefully be of great use once I find some $ to purchase an iPad. I am from the U of Maine Farmington. We are a little behind in technology trends for our Fitness Center. Just not a priority (I am working from a desktop computer that is at least 15 years old). But I with this information I will certainly be ready for when it is! Thanks again!

    • Hi Leah,
      I’m glad you found the info useful. Feel free to contact me with any questions when you purchase that iPad 🙂 If money is a limiting factor, you might be able to use other tablets, or even an iPod touch, that would be cheaper and could still work with Google Docs/Forms. We only use one iPad for our facility checks, and it’s the original one we purchased almost 3 years ago, so that initial investment could go a long way!

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