5 Google Apps features guaranteed to boost productivity

There's a tool for nearly every need

You're probably familiar with the basics of Google Apps--Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Spreadsheets. But built into these are a number of features designed to increase productivity and simplify workflow. From a meeting rescheduling tool in Google Calendar to Priority Inbox, there's a tool for nearly every need.

And while there are a number of Google Apps features you may use every day, there is a handful you may not know about: creating custom surveys, translation tools, using scripts for automation and more. Check out these five Google Apps features that can save you time and increase your productivity.

1. How to Create and Send a Custom Survey

Say you're planning an offsite meeting for your department. Instead of asking your staff for input on the agenda via a series of emails, then organizing and tallying all the responses, try a Google Docs feature called "Forms."

Forms is an easy way to quickly create a form or survey, email it to your colleagues and keep track of the answers in one spreadsheet that updates automatically, in real-time. These forms and surveys can be customized however you like, whether it's for data collection, product feedback or more.

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To create a form or survey from your Docs list, click Create new, then select Form. In the form template that opens, you can add any questions and options you'd like to include. Some of the response types you can choose from include text responses, multiple choice, check boxes and more.

When you're done with creating the form, click "E-mail this form." You'll receive an email with a summary of what the form included, as well as a link to follow that will let you to send it to more people later. To view the responses, select the form from your list of Google Docs. The responses will load in a new window

You can also create a form from a spreadsheet. To do so, follow the steps above while in Google Spreadsheets..

2. How to Turn Images With Text into a Google Doc

If you have a printed document that needs editing, the Google Docs List API offers Optical Character Recognition (OCR) that lets you convert high-res image files with typewritten or printed text into editable text.

To perform OCR on a .jpg, .png or .gif file, visit this page to upload the document. Note that files must be high-res (10 pixel character height) and a maximum file size of 10MB. The larger the file, the longer the OCR will take.

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3. How to Use Google Apps Script for Automation

With Google Apps Script you can automate a variety of features in Google apps, such as reading and changing values in Google Spreadsheets, sending email, expense report approval, mail merge and more.

Google provides a comprehensive list of beginner, intermediate and advanced script tutorials on everything including creating your first custom function, generating a tournament bracket, automating a help desk workflow and more. You can view the full list of script tutorials here.

4. How to Whiteboard Collaboratively With Google Drawings

One way to collaboratively work on a project timeline with your colleagues or design a diagram for a presentation: Google Drawings. This tool is a stand-alone editor that lets you create charts, diagrams, designs and other schematics.

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To access Google Drawings, sign into your account and click "Documents." Then click "Create new" and choose "Drawing" from the drop-down menu to begin your work.

You can edit your drawings in real time with anyone you choose by selecting "Share" and inviting people. You can also chat with others who are editing your drawing, from within the drawings editor. Also, the drawings editor supports alignment guides, snap to grid and publishing drawings as images.

5. How to Translate Your Documents

If you regularly correspond with international offices, the Google Docs "translate" feature can solve a lot of headaches. This feature lets you translate select words or an entire document into 40 languages with a click of a button.

To access the translate feature, open any of your Google Docs. Under "Tools" choose "Translate document," then click "OK." The longer the document, the longer it will take to translate. The new document will be saved along with your other Google Docs.

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Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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