How You’re Wasting Time in Excel (and What to Do About It)




  • — March 6, 2019

    Most of us use Excel for at least one purpose in our jobs or our daily lives. It originated the idea of digital spreadsheets and remained one of the best spreadsheet apps available to the public. With it, you can keep track of data, look up relevant information, make quick calculations, and even produce charts and graphs.

    Unfortunately, most of us are wasting time creating calendars in Excel—whether we realize it or not. And yes, this is a tool designed to improve our productivity and keep us organized, but if you’re not using it to its fullest potential, or if you’re misusing it, it will end up costing you as much time as it saves.

    How You’re Wasting Time in Excel (and What to Do About It)

    You don’t have to be an Excel master to mitigate the damage here. Instead, all you have to do is recognize and address these challenges. In this post, we will teach you to stop wasting time in Excel.

    You Don’t Use VLOOKUP

    VLOOKUP is one of the most useful functions available in Excel, so if you aren’t using it regularly, you’re missing out on significant time-saving benefits. VLOOKUP is a lookup and reference function designed to help you find information in a table or within a specific range. For example, you might need to look up the part number associated with one particular product, or you might need to look up the salary of one of your employees, but you only know their name.

    Assuming you have a full spreadsheet, you might intuitively do this by manually searching for the entry you need, but if your table is big enough, this can waste tons of time. There are some intricacies to learn with VLOOKUP, but once you master it, you can perform these functions practically instantly.

    You Don’t Know the Basic Formulas by Heart

    If you’re using a spreadsheet to keep your business organized, you should know the most basic formulas for accomplishing tasks by heart. You can look up these formulas online whenever you need them, but by the time you do that, you could probably sketch out the calculations you need by hand. You don’t even need to memorize the entire formula; when you start typing a method that Excel recognizes, it will automatically bring you a pop-up window with suggestions for how to complete that formula.

    In the meantime, rely on the Formulas tab instead of looking up the information online. It’s a convenient way to get a high-level view of what formulas are available.

    You Never Look for Templates

    Do you create all your new Excel spreadsheets from scratch? Using your spreadsheets from scratch isn’t necessarily the wrong way to go about things, but if you’ve never even considered simplifying this process by relying on existing templates, you might be losing time.

    There are thousands of Excel templates available for free, which you can find easily within the app, for purposes like accounting, financial management, and inventory management. Unless your business is profoundly unique, these templates are often a good starting point. You can add or remove columns, adjust spacing, change colors, and tweak titles to your liking, and still spend far less time than you would have if you were creating those spreadsheets from scratch.

    You Haven’t Learned Keyboard Shortcuts

    Keyboard shortcuts are a somewhat advanced function, simply because they aren’t shown to you immediately, but you can learn them relatively quickly. If you’re only using your mouse and a combination of clicks to accomplish what you need to, you’re going to lose time.

    For example, there are essential keyboard shortcuts that apply to many programs (like CTRL + C to copy and CTRL + V to paste). There are also Excel-specific shortcuts to help you navigate and modify your existing spreadsheets; you can select an entire row with Shift + Space or a whole column with CTRL + Space. Next, copy formulas, highlight different sections, insert tables, and more—all with some quick strokes from your fingers.

    You Aren’t Relying on Format Painter

    The Format Painter in Excel exists to help you quickly copy the formatting in one section of your spreadsheet to another section. You can find it under the Home tab, and it’s easy to use; all you have to do is select the text, graphic, or area that you want to copy the format of, then you can apply the formatting to whichever new section you desire. Being able to make this choice is extremely useful if you find yourself repeating the same layouts for different spreadsheets.

    You Don’t Take Advantage of the Status Bar

    How often do you glance down at the status bar? If you highlight a column, row, or selection of cells, you’ll see a few metrics by default, including the total number of cells in the selection, the sum of the numbers in those cells, and the average of all those values. However, you can also customize this status bar to display other key metrics; simply right-click it, and you’ll see a menu where you can toggle the pieces of information displayed on or off. When you’ve set it up to be as efficient as possible, start glancing down at it when you’re working for some fast facts.

    You Haven’t Created (or Used) Custom Lists

    Excel comes with some built-in lists to save you time, which you can auto-fill to complete your spreadsheet faster. For example, if you start typing January and February, you can auto-fill the rest of a given area with the remaining months of the calendar.

    These are useful by themselves, but you can also create your own custom lists. For example, you might create a list of all your key employees or all your product categories. That way, you can call upon these lists whenever you need to include them—without having to type everything again from scratch.

    You’re Manually Hunting for Blank Cells

    If you’re working with a large table of information or you’re finalizing a monthly report, you need to know if there are any blank spaces—so you can take action and, hopefully, fill them in with the proper value. However, if you’re looking for these blank cells manually, you’re probably wasting time. The searching for a blank cell is inefficient, and won’t guarantee that you find the blank cells you’re looking for—especially in a complex grid.

    How You’re Wasting Time in Excel (and What to Do About It)

    Instead, consider using the Go To feature. Simply highlight the table or range of cells you want to explore, go to Edit, then Find, then Go To. Click Special, and select Blanks, then all the blank cells in the selection will be temporarily highlighted.

    You Haven’t Tried Using Excel Tables

    Tables are the best way to organize your data, and they’re easy to employ. All you have to do is highlight the range of cells you wish to convert into a table, head to the Insert tab and select the Table menu, then select the table you want to use. Tables help Excel “understand” that all the data within a given area is related, which makes it easier when you want to calculate sums, averages, and other information. They also help your data look more visually compelling, which is useful if you’re collaborating with others.

    You Aren’t Experimenting With Data Visuals

    If you need to analyze your Excel data or present it to another person in a meeting, you’re better off using data visuals than you are combing through the numbers and text manually. Excel has a wide variety of different charts and graphs to call upon in the Insert tab—even 3D graphs.

    How You’re Wasting Time in Excel (and What to Do About It)

    Each is useful for different applications and has inherent strengths and weaknesses when it comes to displaying data, so it’s important to experiment and get a feel for which visuals are most appropriate for each set of data you use regularly. When used correctly, visuals make trends and patterns in your data more accessible to discern and can facilitate better communication when your team is working together on a common problem.

    You Use Excel for Everything

    Excel is a fantastic app, and it’s been a tremendous productivity enhancer for businesses for the past few decades, but it’s starting to generate significant competition. The reality is, Excel isn’t adept at everything, and it’s not the perfect solution for all purposes. For example, if you’re keeping track of customer data, it’s probably better to use a dedicated CRM platform. If you need to collaborate on a spreadsheet with another user, you’re better off using a platform that was made with collaboration in mind.

    If you use Excel for practically everything, it’s probably time to reevaluate your app choices. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting time on an inefficient application.

    If you’re interested in getting even more out of your time using Excel, there are dozens of additional features you can get familiar with, and bad habits you can eliminate. Start reading entries on forums and communities dedicated to Excel (like the official one from Microsoft), watching helpful videos, and questioning your own habits. The more you learn and the more committed you are to ongoing self-improvement, the more efficient you’ll get over time.

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