Excel: The Most Underrated Software You Already Own
There’s a program on your computer you’ve used hundreds of times that can do all kinds of amazing things:
- It can grab information from the web and create crazy calculations and fancy charts.
- It can take pretty much any kind of data file and allow you to play with the data in an infinite number of ways.
- It can take thousands of pages of text and give you a really good idea of what the main points are.
- It can make a lot of processes automatic and save you hundreds of hours of mindless work.
- It can beat Garry Kasparov at chess.*
Microsoft Excel is one of those programs we’ve all used at least a little bit, but most of us haven’t even scratched the surface of what it can do.
There’s a reason why Excel costs $139 and Microsoft Office costs $279 — this is really powerful software that’s capable of some truly amazing things.
But very few of us take full advantage of it.
The Power of Excel
I got my first exposure to Excel’s power a few years ago with an incredible stock-analysis spreadsheet that blew my mind. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I got stuck with a really tedious project and decided to disobey my boss — I found a better way thanks to some developing ninja Excel skills.
It saved me from wasting a bunch of hours of my day, and it made me look like a smart dude. (See also: 5 Efficient Ways to Boost Productivity)
But let’s face it — learning Excel isn’t fun unless it’s going to help you solve an immediate problem. It’s like an umbrella — we only care about it when we need it. Once we’re done, we throw it in the back of the closet and forget about it. But it pays off to learn some of the basics for the next time you run into a roadblock.
Learn by Doing
The next time you get stuck with a tedious task of collecting or organizing data, Google what you’re trying to do along with “excel,” and you’ll get an answer. You may find it tricky, because you have to come up with the overall plan and then figure out how Excel can help. But odds are there is a way Excel can make things easier for you.
So if you’re trying to take thousands of emails and you want to parse out some of the data, you’d search for "parsing data excel." It won’t work 100% of the time, and you may have to learn some Excel lingo, but eventually you'll get it.
There are other places to pick up some Excel basics. Microsoft’s Excel blog is a good place to start. And pay attention to any and all Excel sheets you come across to see how they do certain tasks.
Most important of all: If you meet people who are masters at Excel, ask tons of questions, get their email addresses, follow them on Twitter, and follow them on Facebook. These people will be a HUGE help as you learn all the cool, advanced stuff Excel can do. Believe it or not, people are still more useful than Google.
Improving Your Value
Excel is a powerful piece of software than can help you not only be more efficient at work, but make you look good. If you get really good at it and become the “go to” person for any and all advanced Excel tasks, you’ve just become one of the most valuable people at your workplace.
Think about it this way — if you’re the doorway to getting things done faster and more efficiently, you just turned yourself into a VIP. And VIPs are invaluable to every company.
Anyone else out there have a story of how Excel made your job easier and/or made you look good?
*Microsoft Excel may or may not be actually able to beat Garry Kasparov at chess.