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In this series on productivity, author Jess Stratton takes you through the latest tools that will help you run your business and life more efficiently. Each installment covers a particular feature or technique in a different online tool, such as Google Apps, Skype, YouTube, Mint.com, Etsy, and more. Check back every Monday for tips on topics from recording and publishing video chats to managing your finances online.
When you sign up for a new service, you want to get started right away. If it's a service that involves utilizing a list you already have, why reinvent the wheel and retype all your data? Especially if you're given the opportunity to import the data. Many times the data can be imported as a CSV file, that stands for Comma Separated Values, here's what the content of a Comma Separated Value file looks like, if you've never actually seen one. This is data that's been exported from another program.
At the top I can see my header data. All my column labels like first, last, company, street address, any typical data you'd see in a contact information. Underneath that is every record on a new line. Each record has different cell data, and it's all separated by, you guessed it, a comma. For example, first name, last name, street address. There are spaces, but everything the computer needs to know is that the comma is what designates the new piece of data for that record.
At the end of the line, we move on to the next record and it starts again. So when you export the data, You're not usually given a choice as to how to format that data itself, it spits out the data, you can open it up and look at it, and there it is. So when it's time to import into the new program or service, it may take some editing of this file on your end. This is what I'm going to show you how to do today. A CSV file can also be open with a spreadsheet editor, such as Microsoft Excel.
In fact I'm going to open it up with Excel right now by right clicking. Choosing open with and then selecting Microsoft Excel. Although normally you can just double click the file and it will open up in Excel anyway. When you look at the data in a spreadsheet here is where it becomes much easier to see. In fact you can see how you could very easily change this data if you wanted to. You can also sort it and move columns around and manipulate it and do other things. So here's where we can easily change this data to format it as to how the new program needs it.
Learning how to manipulate this data is a fantastic skill to know how to do to make yourself extremely resourceful when it comes to importing data. The first foundation piece of information you need to know is that a successful import all stems from the header rows. The header rows are the labels of your columns. And again, these labels tell the program where to put the data. Here's the first name, here's the last name column, here's the company, street address, and so on.
I'm going to close out of this. If I'm going to import data into another program Like this contact list, the first thing I want to do is look for the import menu item. After that, I need to decide how I'm going to import the data. For example, I've opened up Microsoft Outlook. I can browse all these menu items until I find the import option. Now in whatever program you're importing into, I can't tell you where that import item is going to be, but that's the first things that you need to look for.
In this case, it's under the file menu. So I'm going to select import and now I need to decide how I'm going to import it. It's asking me what do I want to import. In this case, I'm going to import contacts. I'll click the right arrow, and here's where it's going to ask me how I want to import it. So you need to look for the option to import from a tab or comma-delimited text file. Sometimes you'll see the word CSV, I'll select that. And here's where I can browse to my CSV file, I'll click import and here's where I'm given the ability to map these fields.
On the left is how Outlook needs to field names in that header row labeled. On the right, here's my header rows. Now, you can see they're not the same. In this case, I see the word First, Last, Street Address, City, and on this side, the way Outlook needs them is in a slightly different format. It's looking for First Name, Last Name, Work Street Address. So because those header rows are different, Outlook can't map them without my help, so it's up to me, to take this side and drag it in, and match them up.
Now your program may work a little different. I can see in the stop right that it's telling me the instructions as to how to map those fields, it's telling me to drag the field, where I want it to go. So in this case, I can keep matching them up and now it will import successfully. But I'm going to click Cancel right now because I don't actually want to match them up. I just needed to tell you how to do it. So here's why understanding this is a good skill, because some programs don't allow you to match the fields manually like this one did. It can let you choose a button to import, it can let you choose your CSV file But it's going to assume that your header rows match what it's looking for.
If it doesn't match, your data will never line up correctly or won't import correctly. So if you keep importing data and you're coming up with blanks, that's probably because the header fields don't match and your program can't figure out where the data should actually go. Here's a great trick: First, export data from that app, into CSP format. That way, you can look at the header files that the program exported, see what it's looking for, and adjust yours accordingly.
So I'm going to show you what I mean right now. I've got a successful contact list here in outlook. And I'm going to back to the file menu, except instead of import, I'm going to choose export. Where I choose what I want to export, I want to export my contacts to a list. Unfortunately, it's already going to export it to a tab de-limited text file. I don't have to choose that I want it in a CSV format. I choose where I want to save the exported contacts. I'll save them to my desktop. That's fine. It's going to export all the contacts. And once it's done, we're going to open that up and examine it and look at those header rows.
Here's my contacts list. We're going to right click, choose Open With and choose Microsoft excel. Here's the list that it exported. So what I would advise you to do, is look at this header row. Write down all these labels like first name, last name, company, all the columns that you know you absolutely want imported into your program, work street address, for example. Now I'm going to close this out. I can choose don't save because I'm done with it. I'm going to come back up to my contacts list, the one that I just can't get to import correctly, and I'll choose excel, and now, I'm going to take these header rows and change the text to match what it wants.
I'll just change one more. When I'm all done, I can save it. When you're saving it as a common separated value. You have to save it twice, because Excel's going to yell at you, saying that it doesn't like the format. It wants you to save it in Excel format, but in this case, click continue and don't worry about the fact that you have to save it twice. It's an Excel thing. So now let's do this one more time. I'm going to choose file, import, I'll again choose contacts I'm going to import from a comma-delimited file.
I'll choose my contact list, select import, and now look what's happened. Because I changed these to be what Outlook wants, it's now a ready map these correctly. So I don't have map them manually. So that's a neat little trick if you can't get your data to import correctly. Is to first export it, see what it's looking for, change your column headers to match, and then re-import it. This is how you can learn to do a successful import, every time.
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