Learn to Use Google Apps Script: How and Why

Apps Script is a simple yet powerful programming language that lets you customize, extend, and automate the functionality of Google’s suite of business applications. Scripts can be used in conjunction with Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Spreadsheets, Documents, Forms, and more.

If you’re familiar with the concept of using macros in older applications to automate repetitive tasks, you can think of Apps Script as providing similar functionality, and more.  What makes it so powerful is the simplicity with which multiple applications in the Google Apps suite can be combined to create a seamless workflow.

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Don’t worry… it doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, this can be a lot of fun with a little practice.

The best way to understand this concept is to look at some examples of what can be accomplished with a short bit of Apps Script Code:

  • Send an E-mail Merge Message Using Gmail and a List of Contacts
  • Automatically Create a Spreadsheet Timesheet from Your Google Calendar
  • Automatically Create an Interview Cover Sheet when a Candidate Fills Out an Employment Application
  • Add Reports to a Google Site that Pull Data from an External CRM, Accounting, or Project Management Application

These are just a few of the ways we have used Apps Script in our company to automate and extend our business applications. Once you have a grasp on the basic capabilities of the tool, It’s up to your own creativity to invent your own solutions to customize Google Apps to the needs of your organization.

Creating Your First Apps Script

The first thing to know is that scripts can either be standalone files stored in Google Drive, or they can be stored within other documents- most commonly Docs, Sheets, and Slides.  A standalone script might make the most sense if your script doesn’t directly interact with a document (for example, a script to send a daily email with summary data from your CRM).  If the script’s primary functionality is to read or write data to a particular document, it is best to store it inside the document itself (for example, to create a spreadsheet timesheet from events stored in Google Calendar).

Looking at Sample Code

I recommend starting by copying/pasting the sample script found in Google’s 5-Minute Quickstart into the window of your first Google Apps Script project.  Once you feel comfortable running the sample script, be sure and also review all of the Google Apps Sample Scripts.

If You Have Programming Experience

For those with even light programming and scripting experience, learning Google Apps Script is going to be fairly straightforward. Since Apps Script is based on the Javascript language, those with Javascript experience will be able to jump right in.  In this case, I recommend the Google Apps Script Reference as a starting point to explore the functionality available.

No Programming Experience?

What if you don’t have programming experience? There is still a lot you can accomplish by making some simple modifications to the sample scripts that Google provides.  If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can even take an e-learning course to learn javascript. Don’t forget that a Google for Work Partner may also be able to help you if you get stuck.

Limitations and Other Keys to Keep in Mind

  • Google Apps Scripts run “in the cloud” not on your local computer.
  • Actions taken by the script are taken as if the owner/creator of the script performed them. Therefore, the script can only perform actions that the owner has permission to perform.
  • There are some quota limits to the use of Google Apps Script.  In my experience, it is very uncommon to hit these limits, but it is useful to know they exist.
  • Triggers are very useful if you want to schedule scripts to run on a schedule.

Enjoy and happy scripting!

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