How to Learn Excel: Get on the Fast-track to Slick Spreadsheet Wizardry

pdf to excelMicrosoft Excel needs no introduction. The spreadsheet application on which most modern businesses crunch the numbers is a mainstay of our everyday lives. And many of us, no doubt, have proclaimed on a resume or two that we are proficient – perhaps even an expert – when it comes to using Excel. We have, after all, plugged numbers into it a few times; maybe even used it to calculate a sum, right?

But are you really an Excel expert? How well do you know your way around the program? Tending to our busy lifestyles, many of us use the application on a daily basis but never get a handle on the features designed to help us to work faster, smarter, and with a lower rate of error.  The program has incredible potential that may solve some of your business problems much more easily than you imagined.  So if you haven’t got much further than being able to punch in numbers, it’s time to get to know Excel. You can get started today with an online course covering the essentials of Excel.

Once you dig in to the material, you’ll quickly see that Excel has a seemingly never-ending list of capabilities, integrations, formulas, and add-on features.  Don’t be intimidated by this.  On the contrary, you should be excited to know it is only limited by your ability to work with it.  Here are some tips to get in the right frame of mind and get the most benefit as you learn to work with Excel.

Change how you think about the program

Too often, we think of Excel as a kind of word processor to handle our business data and technical information. You may sit down to work in Excel with a calculator at the ready, doing the math and then putting the results into your regular report. On the surface, this is fine, but by ignoring the program’s ability to automate functions, you are essentially losing time that could be spent on tasks that are more worthy of your attention.

Start to think about Excel as an assistant that reliably works out the data for you.  After giving it the proper training, you can rely on it to take your input and give back accurate results that are ready to publish.

Understand the basics

One of the major reasons many people use Excel without knowing the program is that it has a simple and intuitive interface you can more or less start to use right away. But don’t take the menus and features for granted.  You will be surprised at how much you simply overlook.  Get to know the interface and what everything is there for.

Depending on your overall familiarity, it might help to start by learning the basics of Microsoft Office in general.  There is an online course that will teach you the fundamentals of Office 2010 and the programs within the package. You might think about starting with this and then moving to more advanced uses of Excel.

Take a real life problem to the application

You could very well find that a survey of fundamental features is great for starting with Excel.  But once you are comfortable with the interface, layout, and basic features, how do you plan to develop and get a handle on using the program day to day?

One great method that suits the learning style of many is to take on real-life problems and examples. You can jump into an actual business problem and apply steps in Excel to put a repeatable solution in place. The emphasis here should be on “repeatable.”  Pick something that you have to do on a routine basis, and set up your Excel solution so that all you have to do is put in new numbers or data.

If you like the idea of learning by example but would prefer a more structured and guided approach, you can take a course in Excel designed to teach by example. You will increase your level of Excel mastery as you work through problems that businesses address in the real world.

Never be above getting help

As you are starting out on learning Excel, or any new program for that matter, here is a piece of computing wisdom to keep in mind: one of the most common traits that separates advanced users from novice ones is that the advanced users seek out help.

When you have an idea about how to do something in Excel and you want to know how you can make it happen, a look at the help menu or a simple web search can be your best friend.  As accomplished computing professionals understand, you can learn quickly and effectively from the experience of others, once you have got your start. The open-source community knows this well, and many open-source projects rely solely on their active community of users to teach people undertaking the software anew.

Learn to think like a programmer

As you become more advanced in Excel, you will begin using formulas. Essentially, these are mini programs that automate more advanced data inquiries, calculations, etc. There can be several ways of accomplishing a task, and you will want to choose the most efficient and repeatable one. This is the common starting point for programmers, and you would do well to approach the situation similar to how they would

You might even consider taking a fundamental programming course designed for general applicability. It may not seem helpful for a non-programming student, but you will be surprised at how useful programming logic can be with your approach to Excel, not to mention many other areas in your day to day experience.

In fact, go learn some programming

Just when you think you have learned everything there is to know about Excel, you will find out you are just scratching the surface. That is because, with the help of Visual Basic programming language built into Microsoft Office programs, you can create custom programs, or macros, that will automate very specific business needs that are not already covered in the standard Excel features. Macros also go beyond working inside of a single Office application and can automate sending data back and forth between programs.

You will be surprised at how easy it is to get going with this type of programming, and once you have the basics down, you can learn to program macros in an online course in Excel’s VBA functions.

And finally, once you have the basics of VBA under your belt, then you you have earned the status of Excel Wizard, and your career will be all the better for it, indeed.