Just five years ago Microsoft Excel was as alien to me as table manners is to a two-year-old child. Then during my university summer break in 2007 I got a job at a bank that changed all that. I learned that
- Excel makes calculations of complex formulas easy;
- Excel works great as a basic reporting tool; and
- Excel is used extensively by just about everyone at work.
What I couldn’t understand was that if Excel was this useful, why wasn’t I taught it in school? Then it dawned on me that I probably was. But because I didn’t know exactly what it did or how it was used for, I never really cared. So I never paid attention. And I never learned.
I now know what Excel can do and how useful it is. So I’m writing this now, hoping that you will read this and go, wow, I need to learn Excel now. And my husband/girlfriend/child. Heck, my dog needs to learn Excel.
When I say Excel, I really mean a spreadsheet program. And when I say learn, I mean really learn. As in “deliberate learning” (as opposed to learning by accident).
There are really only two things that I want to emphasise here: that Excel’s used by many different people in many different ways; and that mastering it will enable you to get much more done.
MS Excel is used by everybody in so many ways
If there’s one big reason why you should be learning Excel it’s this: Excel’s used by just about everybody and in so many different ways.
One reason why I probably never paid attention in school if they had taught us Excel was that there wasn’t any real benefit. Sure, we needed to do some basic financial modelling and play around with “what-if” analyses (e.g. what would happen to our revenue if our product costs 20% more to make? How about if it cost 10% more to make?) during business classes.
But who actually does this sort of thing in the real world? I’m going to be a teacher/housewife/writer/scientist, not a business owner or financial analyst. So just how often do we get to use this in the real world anyway?
Well, pretty darn often. Just about every single field out there makes use of some sort of analysis:
- A teacher trying to figure out how your students are doing as compared to their peers
- A small business owner wondering which product to keep and which to retire
- A scientist trying to figure out the homogeneity of a dataset
- A housewife keeping track of household expenses and determining if it’s a good idea to send her children to $1000/mth tuition classes
- A Donn Lee trying to see the relationship between his weekly running mileage and his (unfortunately heavy) weight
You get the idea.
Mastering MS Excel lets you get home on time
My current company lives and breathes spreadsheets. But we still have people, newbies and veterans alike, who aren’t especially well-versed in it. One thing I’ve noticed about these people is that they tend to work longer hours because even though they know what to do analytically (they can explain it to me using plain english), but they don’t know how to do it efficiently (or sometimes at all) in Excel.
Every once in a while I’ll get a call from one of them asking me to help them with a spreadsheet. So I’d walk to their desk and they’ll show me what they were having a problem with and I’d fix it or otherwise advise them on it. Sometimes, the answer would be a “you can’t do that in Excel” — and this after they’d been trying it without success for the past few hours.
Many times I’d also fix something else “by the way”: spreadsheets loading too slowly due to formulas linked to external workbooks with tens of thousands of lines; inefficient use of nested formulas; and sometimes, in the more serious cases, formulas used incorrectly and returning the wrong numbers — if these were presented at a managerial or external meeting it’d be disastrous.
Would you love to be able to work through spreadsheets like magic? I cannot say enough how freeing it is to be able to have an intuitive idea of what you want to do in Excel, and be able to execute that idea through a mastery of the tool. Learn MS Excel, and go home on time, please. Your family will thank you.
If you haven’t already, go to your local library and pick up a book on Excel, or do a search on Google and YouTube for Excel tutorials and learn from there. Plenty of free resources abound.
Some external resources to get you started: