21 Excel Tips and Tricks to Become a Spreadsheet Sensei

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    21 Excel Tips and Tricks to Become a Spreadsheet Senseiprocess.st/excel-tips-and-tricks/

    Adam Henshall

    March 10, 2017

    In 2013, 90% of businesses reported using Microsoft Excel in their business operations.

    In 2016, 1 in 5 companies report using Excel as their primary mode of communicating data internally.

    However, the world is catching up and Excel is wandering into a future of SaaS apps and automation. If you haveExcel deep within the structures of your business, this article will show you two key things:

    1. How to get the most out of Excel. Learn how to do more than the basic calculations and how to bringautomation into your Excel operations.

    2. The other automation tools on the market which you can begin to integrate into your operations as you moveforward.

    What were going to do is lay out a series of steps by which you can get more from Excel. Were going to start offsuper simple with our Excel for dummies, and move gradually up to complex tasks which can really demonstratethe power of Excel.

    Are you ready?


    Firstly, lets look at what Excel is usually employed for.1/16


  • Excel for Dummies

    Every companys use case for Excel may be subtly different. Nevertheless, there are a couple of core functionsExcel is often given the responsibility of handling.


    Many companies use Excel for defining working hours and timesheets. This can often be used to manage payrollfor companies which pay via hourly employment, or defining contractor relationships. Excel is often also used toschedule meetings or availability of meeting rooms and other workspaces. Traditionally, this would require anindividual working in an administrative capacity to be responsible for managing these spreadsheets. With Microsoft365 and other improved services over the years, much of this work has been shifted into cloud-based provision.

    Tip 1: To make your scheduling work more clearly, use color coding on your spreadsheet with a neat key on theside. Each cell can be given a different background color and you can enhance the borders on headers to make thetable easier to understand at a glance. You can do this easily by selecting your data, right clicking, and selectingTable. Excel will automatically make it look pretty, then you can customize.

    Accounting reporting

    Excels spreadsheet and basic calculation functionality have historically made it an essential feature of accountingdepartments. Its very easy to record data and manage that data, adding and subtracting against columns .Through being able to easily generate reports and charts, Excel provided and continues to provide a way to bothmanage accounting tasks and to compile and present accounting performance in easy to use ways.

    Tip 2: You can do simple calculations within Excel using commands like SUM. To run these commands, select thecell you want the result to appear in and type =SUM followed by brackets with the number of the first cell in thecolumn you want to add up. Then add a colon to separate it from the last cell in the column you wish to addtogether and close the brackets. Press enter and Excel will add that range up for you.

    Tracking performance



  • If you wish to understand your companys operations by numbers, Excels spreadsheet view provides an intuitiveway to record all relevant data and see how certain elements relate to others. You can track production costs versussales performance and map that against operating costs with ease. From this base, you can use Excel to drawprojections and spot downstream problems in your business operations. Excel has been used in boardroomsacross the world to understand company direction.

    Tip 3: To calculate a series of cells you can do simple commands. If you have a column for revenue and one forcosts, you can calculate profits by selecting the cell you want this to appear in and typing = followed by the numberfor the revenue-total cell, the minus sign, and then the number for the costs-total cell. Press enter and Excel doesthe calculation for you. If you used the SUM formula above to calculate those totals, then any number whichchanges in the revenue or costs columns will make Excel recalculate the profit total .

    Customer information

    As you gather new customers, you need to keep track of them and the different variables pertaining to theirrelationship with your company. Excel is often used to record this customer information, with the ability to easilysearch for specific customers within this database making it a simple way to record and track individual contracts.With the ability to create new columns as and when they are needed, the spreadsheet layout makes the datacontained highly malleable.

    Tip 4 + 5: When compiling data on customers, you may record the date they joined you or the date they purchasedyour product. When you enter a date into Excel, it automatically understands you are using dates and formats thecolumn accordingly. However, you can alter the way a column is formatted by right clicking on the column andselecting Format cells. You can also change the way these dates are sorted by clicking on Sort & Filter in thetop right of your screen.



  • There are countless use cases for Excel and the above are simply the most common broad categories. Even if youare using Excel in a simple way, you can improve your processes and efficiency through applying a few simple tipsand tricks.

    Lets have a look at some of the basic steps to improving your Excel usage.

    Tips and tricks to get the most out of Excel

    Im going to assume you know how to type a number into a box. Im also going to assume you already have the needto have lots of numbers in boxes, but maybe need to be able to more easily interpret those numbers or runcalculations automatically.

    Here are the 5 tips well cover in depth:

    SUMIFS Formulas

    VLOOKUP Formulas

    INDEX+MATCH Formulas

    IF Formula

    Nesting Formulas

    Tip 6: SUMIFS Formulas

    Imagine you have two products which you sell across three different regions and you have two defined customertypes. What you want to know is how many of a particular product in a particular region you sold to aparticular customer type.

    This isnt the easiest thing to do if you dont know how to make Excel do the analysis for you. This is where theSUMIFS command comes in. SUM is about adding stuff, and IF is about controlling for variables. So, SUMIFS isabout adding certain stuff together providing certain parameters are met.

    It looks a little something like this:

    =SUMIFS(sales, regions, A, products, B, customer types, C)


  • The first value above is what we want to add together. The second value is us defining a dataset (the region), withthe third value being the variable we want to use from that dataset (a specific region). The fourth and fifth are pairedtogether in the same way. As are the sixth and seventh.

    It might look like this:

    =SUMIFS(A1:A100, B1:B100, South, C1:C100, Chocolate bunnies, D1:D100, Commercial outlets)

    This scans through the sales data in column A and pulls out all the information which matches the parameters youvedefined in the rest of the formula. It then adds these figures up and presents you with the total .

    If we say that the sales figures are total dollar sale amounts for each purchase, then the amount of chocolatebunnies sold to commercial outlets in the south would come out as $10,000 or whatever the actual sales figureswould be.

    This turns a complex task into a simple calculation which can be completed rapidly, saving you time and keepingyou focused on the important things.

    Tip 7: VLOOKUP Formulas

    The best way to imagine the VLOOKUP is a search engine which shoots back the answer to you . Like any goodsearch engine, its all about defining what it is youre looking for.

    If you have a large table with a number of different columns and you know one piece of data (datum to save youthe effort of reminding me in the comments) and you want to find out about another bit of information related to thatdata, you can use the VLOOKUP.

    Lets pretend we have a sheet which contains, amongst other things, customer names and customer IDs. What wewant to do is enter the customer ID and have Excel shoot the customer name right back at us . Well assumethe customer ID is 12345 and the column for customer names is the second column in a table of customers whichspans cells A1 to D20.

    It should look something like this:

    =VLOOKUP(12345, A1:D20, 2, 0)


  • Which means were performing the lookup on the customer ID within the table of customers, and then pulling out itscorresponding value recorded in column number 2, and we want an exact match; 0 means false the value 1would mean true and would give us an approximate match.

    In the defined table A1:D20 the VLOOKUP will automatically search within the first column for your searchterm, in this case the customer ID. When it finds it, it will then look at the value next to it in the second column, in thiscase column B.

    Excel will then return that value to you. Like a search engine, but for your spreadsheet.

    Its important to be aware, that if your table is defined as D1:F20, for example, column number 2 would be column E,because that is the second column within your defined range.

    Also, always use the column your search term is in as the first column in your defined range. The VLOOKUPautomatically searches this column for your search term anyway, so it saves headaches for you to just follow along.If your customer ID is in column F and the name is in column G, dont use A1:G20, use F1:G20 as your definedrange. It just makes things a little easier .

    Tip 8: INDEX+MATCH Formulas

    The problem with VLOOKUP is that it only searches in the left-hand column.

    The painfully obvious limitation of this is that it makes it difficult to find things which are stored to the left of the termyou are searching for. So, how do we fix this?

    This is where we have to use the INDEX+MATCH approach.

    This works by first stating what you want to find and then defining what corresponding information Excel can use tofind it.

    Lets say we have the name of a customer, but we want to find their customer ID . The reverse of the examplegiven in the VLOOKUP explanation above. This means the customer names are in B column between cells 1 and20, and the customer IDs are in A column between 1 and 20.

    First, we have to tell Excel what we want to find:



  • Now we need to insert the MATCH command into that formula. It slots in nicely before the end of the bracketsseparated by a comma and with its own set of brackets after it:

    =INDEX(A1:A20, MATCH())

    Inside those second brackets we put the parameters for the item we know were searching against the name of thecustomer, its location, and whether the column is sorted (0 means false, 1 means true):

    =INDEX(A1:20, MATCH(Wee Joe Allen, B1:B20, 0))

    The above formula should search the B column for the customer Wee Joe Allen and return to us thecorresponding figure from the A column Wee Joes customer ID.

    Simples, no?

    Tip 9: IF Formula

    You can use IF formulas in loads of different ways, but well give you a pretty simple scenario to get you started.

    Imagine you have 10 employees and they all earn $3,000 per month. Youve told them time and time again tosubscribe to the Process Street blog. Youve decided that youre going to incentivize them further by giving a raiseto all the employees who have subscribed to the blog. Youre going to give them all a raise, because youre nicelike that, but youre going to give a bigger raise to subscribers .

    A 10% raise to blog subscribers and a 5% raise to the rest.

    You might have lots of important columns detailing your employees information but for us there are two columns ofimportance.

    The first column we care about is the column which lists their monthly wage. A column of 10 where every cellcontains the figure 3000. Lets say this column is located E2:E11.

    The second column you create is designed to record whether or not the employee is subscribed to the ProcessStreet blog. Lets say this column is F2:F11. Against each employee, you give a score of 0 or 1 . If they aresubscribed to the blog, they receive the score 1 which means the statement is true.

    What we can do now is build the basic formula in the next cell along; G1. The formula will look something like this:



  • =IF(F2, E2*110%, E2*105%)

    Lets look at what this means.

    F2 is where you stated your true or false expression: 0 or 1. E2 is the original wage they were receiving. So, of thethree parts to the above formula, part one asks whether the statement is true or false, part two defines whathappens if the statement is true, and part three defines what happens if the statement is false.

    So if E2 contains the value 3000, F2 contains the value 1, then Excel will calculate that G2 will contain the value3300.

    Tip 10: Now you select the G2 cell and click on the little blue square which appears on the bottom right-handcorner of the cell. Drag that down the page to G11 and Excel will calculate all the figures for all the other cellsautomatically.

    If you now click on G11, you should see the formula:

    =IF(F11, E11*110%, E11*105%)

    automatically generated without you having to type it out .

    Tip 11: Nesting Formulas


  • Sometimes youre faced with something a little more complex than a true or false value can define. Maybe you haveto deal with multiple different variables?

    Do not fear.

    For these kinds of scenarios, we can put formulas inside formulas and work out more complex things .

    Lets take the same employee raise scenario we used above. However, this time you want to give a raise tosomeone based on how many Process Street articles they have read each month. We pump out a minimum of12 articles a month and you want your staff to read every last one of them.

    Youve decided that youre going to hand out a 15% rise for anyone who has read over 10, a 10% rise for anyonewho has read over 5, and a 5% rise for everyone else because you know the cost of living is rising and Terry just hadanother child, bless him.

    How do we do this?

    Imagine your data is laid out similarly to before. If youre following along in Excel, list the number of Process Streetarticles each employee has read that month in column F, and were going to do our calculations in cell 2 of column Gagain.

    In the last IF formulas, the structure was:

    IF condition, result if positive, result if negative.

    Part 1, part 2, part 3.

    Were going to do that again but this time were creating two IF statements, with the second one nestled insidethe first. This time the part 1 will be whether the number of articles is above 10, and the result if positive will be theappropriate 15% raise. However, we dont need to define a normal negative result this time, if the result isnegative we will run a second IF formula. If the second IF formula is positive the employee gets a 10% raise and if itis negative they receive a 5% raise.

    Lets write it out in plain terms below:

    IF greater than or equal to 10 articles per month, if positive result times wage by 115%, if negative result runIF(greater than or equal to 5 articles per month, if positive result times wage by 110%, if negative result times wageby 105%)

    When we put all that together in an actual formula, its going to look like this:

    =IF(F2>=10, E2*115%, IF(F2>=5, E2*110%, E2*105%))

    Then simply grab that little blue guy at the bottom of your selected cell and drag him down to the bottom of youremployees-list to calculate the rest.


  • Extra useful commands and symbols

    Tip 12: In the above examples, even though we made the calculations in K1 with reference to J1 and I1, once wehad pulled the formula down to K10 the formula was pulling its data from J10 and I10. If you dont want that tohappen, you can lock a formula to a particular cell by using the dollar sign.

    If we had used $J$1 or $I$1 the formulas we created as we dragged our calculations down the cells in the K columnwould have stayed attached to the original cells.

    Tip 13: You can create a defined table within Excel by highlighting all the cells you want to include in your tableand clicking on Table on the ribbon. Then you can format your table by clicking on any of the cells within the tableand selecting Format as Table.

    Tip 14: To make your life easier for yourself, you can name your table in the design tab. This allows you to startwriting formulas which contain words rather than strings of numbers . If you name your table Financials andhave a column called Revenue and another called Costs, you could work out profit by typing:

    =Financials[Revenue] - Financials[Costs]

    The table name is presented in plain writing with the column titles inside square brackets. Once it has beencalculated, Excel will portray it in the easiest way to understand:



  • Tip 15: The ampersand symbol can be used to combine two text values . If you have one cell which has the textDavid Moyes and another which says football genius then you could use the formula:

    =David Moyes & football genius

    And you would get the result:

    David Moyes football genius

    Tip 16: Using the equal to / greater than kinds of commands always works with Boolean logic. This is a fancy wayof saying they provide True or False outputs. A nice example of how they can be used was our Nested formula in thesection above.

    2=2 will result in False

    Tip 17: If you want to refer to an inline array of values, you can use the squiggly brackets . For example:

    {1,2,3,4,5,6} refers to the list of values 1,2,3,4,5

    Tip 18: If you want to count all the words beginning with the letter a in column B, you can easily do this byemploying the asterisk symbol in a COUNTIF statement. Example:

    =COUNTIF(B1:B100, a*)

    Tip 19: Another neat COUNTIF trick is for finding phone numbers. If youre an international company and you havethe phone numbers of loads of clients with their country codes, you can search for the country code:

    =COUNTIF(C1:C100, 44*)

    If your phone numbers are stored in column C, that should return all British phone numbers in the defined range.

    Tip 20: If youre working with a massive sheet of data with loads of interconnected formulas, sometimes things gowrong. Dont worry, the handy COUNTIF can tell you whenever something has popped. Lets imagine you have 100rows of data.

    Simply choose a cell to monitor the rest of your sheet and enter the formula:

    =COUNTIF(A1:G100, #VALUE!)

    This will count how many times the error code pops up in your spreadsheet across the first 100 rows. So, if youwant to check nothing is broken, you can simply look at this one cell instead of analyzing your entire sheet.


  • Tip 21: Another COUNTIF! This time lets assume you have a big list of cities where your customers are located.You also have a handy key on the side which tells you how many times each of your 5 target cities where youwant to expand show up in the list.

    The 5 cities are recorded in column X. London is one of them; located in X1.

    In cell Y1, you want to record how many times London appeared in the list of cities of your customers: G1:G100. Thelist is categorized by how much they spend in descending order and you only care about the top 100 biggestspending customers, not the whole column.

    Heres your formula:

    =COUNTIF($G$1:$G$100, Y1)

    Or equally:

    =COUNTIF($G$1:$G$100, London)

    Build out automations with macros and add-ins

    A further way to expand your Excel capabilities is to delve deeper into the complex side of what the program iscapable of.

    The programming language which works within Excel is Microsofts Visual Basic. This allows you to write moredetailed code to determine how your Excel sheet functions . Building macros is the first step on that journey.

    The best way to imagine a macro is to think of it as Javascript within HTML. Javascript is capable of manipulatingthe HTML you find on a webpage and macros do the same thing to the documents theyre embedded into.

    Theres a wealth of different things you can do with macros, including:

    Applying style and formatting

    Manipulating data and text

    Communicating with other data sources (databases, text files, etc)

    Creating entirely new documents.12/16


  • All of the above in any order or combination

    You can create a basic macro without any need to code by navigating to the View tab on your ribbon. On thefurthest right-hand option, youll see a big button for Macros.

    If you click the Record Macros option then you can name your Macro and begin the creation. Excel will now monitorwhat you do in the spreadsheet until you click to stop recording, and Excel will remember the series of steps youperformed.

    You can manipulate your data using formulas and apply formatting to your cells to make them look pretty taking aseries of basic numbers and turning them into a fully calculated table. Excel has watched the steps you took toachieve this and has remembered them. By saving this as a macro, you can automatically run all those stepsagain in an automated fashion on new data in future.

    In short, you created and defined a process which you want Excel to follow, and named it. When you want to run thatprocess on cells in the future, you can easily instruct Excel to do so.

    Once youve stopped your recording, delete the data in the sheet and save the document in a macro-enabledformat, like below:

    Congratulations! Youve made a macro.

    To use this macro in future, import the data you want to manipulate into your spreadsheet and click Macros on theright-hand side of your ribbon. Youll see the option for View Macros. Clicking this will show you all available macrosand you can choose the one you need. Then click Run and watch Excel work on your document for you ,making all the changes you defined when you set up your macro, to begin with.

    A further step to boost the functionalities of Excel is to include add-ins. These are external programs which you canintegrate into Excel to improve its functionality. Google Sheets makes use of a huge library of add-ins to supplementits more lightweight core functionalities.

    Here are some Excel add-ins worth checking out :

    ASAP Utilities: The most popular add-in for Excel which provides a further +300 added functionalities.

    AbleBits Utility Pack: Provides a number of useful features including merging Excel worksheets and more.

    Ribbon Commander: For the expert user, this add-in lets you manipulate your ribbon and create your ownadd-ins.

    XL Tools Add-In : Add productivity tools and improved version management into your Excel usage.

    PivotalPal Add-in : This one focuses on pivot tables and provides many options for how to get the most fromyour tables.

    Bring in extra tools to automate what Excel cant



  • To really bring the best of out Excel, we should look to see how it can work with other tools outside of itself . Wewant to easily be able to pull data from other areas into Excel and launch things on other platforms from Excel.Having this range of features allows us to automate tasks simply and easily.


    The big boy of third party automation tools, Zapier connects with over 750 different webapps and allows them tospeak to one another, triggering actions in one webapp from a different webapps.

    When you connect two platforms via Zapier, youre creating a zap. This zap fires the information back and forth asyouve defined it. You dont need to code and it only takes a few moments to set a zap up.

    Zapier integrates with Excel and provides a host of different potential use cases. Check out the image below:

    Do you see that at the bottom? Zaps 1-5 of 96. What that doesnt include is the extra things you can achieve bysetting up multi-step zaps.

    The future is here and its automated .

    Process Street



  • With Process Street, you can launch checklists from a library of premade or custom templates . Thesechecklists help you define your processes and workflows in order to improve the functioning of your business.

    While Excel automates your calculations for you, Process Street can automate much of your managerial andoversight responsibilities. Running a process for an employee provides them with clear and easy to followinstructions and then logs the progress theyve made.

    Using Zapier, you can connect Process Street to Excel and smooth out the workflows within your business.




  • As great as Zapier is, Excel is a Microsoft product. It wouldnt make sense to avoid mentioning Microsofts newproduct Flow, which is engineered to take on Zapier within the third-party automation market.

    Flow is neatly synced up to all the Microsoft services and contains nearly 100 extra integrations too.

    As Flow is a new product, expect the number of available integrations to rocket as time moves forward. Look at theimage above to see the broad range of use cases Flows automations system provides for Excel.

    And those few are only a sample. Keep an eye on Flow.

    Make the most out of Excel and automate your workflows

    Now that youve read through this article, Im hoping you feel a little more comfortable around Excel. No longer isthis Excel for dummies, but Excel for seasoned data analysts !

    Weve covered the basics, looked in depth and some harder bits, and covered a range of extra tips and tricks too.

    The best way to learn more about Excel is to start putting these techniques into practice. Try to set up a sheet ofdata which contains multiple complex formulas and then when youve got it figured out, record the creation processas a macro. Youll see how quickly you can go from an excel newbie to a power user.

    Before you know it, youll be writing in Visual Basic and having water cooler discussions about the virtues ofcsv files.

    Most importantly, youll cut out all the time wasted on manually analyzing data .

    What did you find most useful from the article? What Excel use cases do you have to deal with on a day to daybasis?



    21 Excel Tips and Tricks to Become a Spreadsheet SenseiExcel for DummiesSchedulingAccounting reportingTracking performanceCustomer information

    Tips and tricks to get the most out of ExcelTip 6: SUMIFS FormulasTip 7: VLOOKUP FormulasTip 8: INDEX+MATCH FormulasTip 9: IF FormulaTip 11: Nesting Formulas

    Extra useful commands and symbolsBuild out automations with macros and add-insBring in extra tools to automate what Excel cantZapierProcess StreetFlow

    Make the most out of Excel and automate your workflows