How Much Time Are You Wasting in Excel?

Excel is one of the only business software products that can be considered universal. Excel evolved as the business environment evolved; as firms in leading industries concerned themselves with organizational efficiency, versatility, and agility, “spreadsheet” began to mean completely different things to different people. Most significantly for us, Persons Other than Accountants (POAs) started opening workbooks, and they immediately started wasting time.

At Spreadsheet Boot Camp we’ve given tons of presentations, and the most frequent lines we hear from Excel users are “wow! I didn’t know you could do that!” and “wow! I didn’t know you could do that that way!” Both of these comments are generally followed up with “I’ve been wasting so much time!” These sentiments persist across every type of user in almost every industry.

The problem is one of awareness. If you’ve never seen another person swim a lap, and you discover that you can float in water, you might think you’re swimming. If you watch the Olympics, and you pantomime the strokes to push yourself across a pool, you might think you’re pretty good. It’s not until we get into the pool and race against other people that we learn how we stack up, and then we nurse our diminished pride or grow our confidence accordingly. This is true of most things we do: we do them inefficiently until we’re compelled to be efficient, and it is often a socially- or ego-driven pressure that compels us. This is not to say that humans are naturally lazy or complacent – we might be – but that we like to work smart rather than work needlessly hard. That doesn’t mean avoiding hard work, but your putting in 80 hours a week sounds a lot less impressive when I can get the same results working nine-to-five.

Excel is like any tool in that we tend to feel like we’re being efficient just by using it. But think about it this way: if you’re paying your lawyer, maid, or blogger (ahem) by the hour, wouldn’t you rather they do more work in less time? If you use Excel to complete repeatable tasks at work, wouldn’t you rather spend fewer hours and expend less energy in performing those tasks? We think the modern worker is smart, but we don’t think she works particularly smart. We think a good percentage of Excel users could cut the time they spend working in Excel in half simply by learning efficient techniques.

While it’s very easy to open Excel and “use” it, to doggy paddle (continuing with the swimming reference), it takes some effort to recognize that we’re floundering. It’s especially difficult to audit ourselves when we’re creating spreadsheets, a process which is generally informal and fluid, spurred by an urgent need for information. Managers expend extra effort to make sure these processes evolve efficiently, but rarely do they think about baseline improvement: training users on the use of shortcuts, efficient navigation, and easy, understandable formatting.

To that end, Spreadsheet Boot Camp is proud to introduce the Excel Efficiency Trainer. Our aim with the Efficiency Trainer is to help the user recognize his or her inefficient techniques and permanently correct bad habits. Beginning with a time trial in navigation and formatting, the user then progresses into a tutorial that will teach and reinforce the use of shortcuts with which the user might not be familiar. Finally, the user runs through the time trials again applying the newly learned techniques, cutting down time expended with needless mouse usage and sloppy methods. Each time the user runs through the tutorial and time trials, she’ll see her time cut down until basic tasks are second nature.

If you’re a fan of “busy work,” if you hunt-and-peck, or if you enjoy wasting time, the Excel Efficiency Trainer might not be for you. For the rest of you, download the FREE Trainer and start working more efficiently!

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