If you’re running a business, you probably already know how beneficial Excel spreadsheets are for your organization. There are many benefits that a small business can reap from Excel, but its most enticing attribute is, of course, that it is the most versatile affordable data source out there. You can purchase the Microsoft Office Home and Business bundle for a few hundred dollars per year, while other database analytic software programs like SPSS, SAAS and Oracle start their basic pricing plans in the thousands. If you’re managing your small business data with Excel, you’re doing your budget a big favor.
Aside from saving money, one of the main objectives of using Excel as a data source is to collect and analyze various sets of data so that you can create new goals and set key performance indicators (KPIs) and other benchmarks that will ultimately help you improve your business performance.
What you do not want to do when you set off on this task is create unorganized data sets using formulas and techniques that slow Excel down or cause it to malfunction. If you do not set up Excel properly, you will most likely end up confused and frustrated before you’re able to gather any helpful analytics for your business. To help you get a head start on setting up the most effective reporting in Excel, we put together a list of the top 5 ways to maximize your Excel performance.
1. Check Your Computer’s RAM
While Excel can be a great data source, it requires a good amount of memory in order to function properly. This first tip isn’t exactly a tip on how to use Excel, but it is an essential tip for you to consider to ensure smooth functioning when you do decide to set up Excel as your main data source.
In order to avoid freezes and lengthy calculation times, make sure that your computer has a good amount of free RAM space. If you need to, upgrade your computer, add more RAM, or switch to a faster processor before you get into the serious stuff.
2. Be Meticulous when Planning Your Spreadsheet Design
Before you dive in, you must give the planning of your layout a good amount of forethought. If you just begin tossing data together without any planning, you will be making a big mess for yourself later on. Consider the requirements and goals for the spreadsheet and map out the structure of it before you begin your project. This will keep you focused and on track, and reduce the chances of running into structural issues after you have put a lot of time and effort into your construction.
While the advice above is great advice for setting expectations for your data source in general, a more Excel-specific tip on this subject is to understand how Excel makes its calculations. Before Excel can make any calculations, it creates something called a “Calculation Stack”. This stack is designed to be the most optimal approach for calculating cells based on their dependencies. In order to maximize the effectiveness and speed of the program, it is essential that you use an organized and logical flow with all of your dependencies on one Excel spreadsheet. You should also keep your formulas minimal and organized so that they aren’t jumping all over the workbook in unnecessary duplicates that will slow the program’s speed significantly.
3. Understand Named Range Creation
What you choose to name the objects and values in your Excel tables needs to make sense from a few different perspectives, so you need to choose your names wisely. When you choose names, you’re not only choosing them for yourself, although that is one important perspective that you need to consider. You must be able to identify a particular object in your data set, but you’ll want to choose names that allow others, from programmers to users and even your future self, to understand the data in your Excel tables as well.
You also have to consider the perspective of the computer and choose names that you can use easily in formulas and ones that won’t slow down Excel’s calculations. Avoid using spaces in names that are in one cell. If you’re recording the names of people, use one column for the first name and one for the last. When naming columns, combine names like ‘Sales Tax’ into ‘SalesTax’. Other important rules for creating named ranges in Excel include:
- Although you can use uppercase and lowercase letters in the names you create, Excel is not able to distinguish between them
- You cannot use a cell reference as a name
- C, c, R and r are used as selection shortcuts so cannot be used as a defined name
- The first character of any name must be either a letter, a backslash or an underscore
- Name characters can only contain numbers, letters, underscore characters and periods
4. Know Which Functions to Use for Data Formatting
There are a few simple ways for you to pull data from multiple sheets or another database and combine it all into one workbook.
This is one advanced function that you will learn to use frequently once you get the hang of it. You can use if-then statements to build your own customized Excel processes that will help solve important real-life data issues as they pertain to your business. Conditional formatting can also be set when using if-then statements.
The VLookup function is one of the most basic functions that you should learn to use as it is an essential tool for pulling specific information from a data set. Fortunately, this function is pretty easy to use, but you have to pay close attention when using it to ensure that you’re pulling up the proper sets of data.
To use VLookup, the information in your table must be arranged vertically (the V in VLookup stands for vertical). It is important to understand that VLookup is only able to pull data from the columns to the right of the table’s first column. You should also know that if the column you’re asking VLookup to pull data from contains duplicate values, it will only pull the first matched value.
You can force VLookup to do exact or approximate matches, but you must ensure that your data is sorted in ascending order by the lookup value in order to get the correct results. One of the most helpful functions of VLookup is that it can be used to merge data from two separate tables when you need to pull a piece of data for analysis.
Pulling Data from Sheets in a Specific Path
There are a number of different ways to pull data from sheets in a specific path. You can use VBA, Dir, application file search code or a number of other codes to pull up data from separate sheets and paste it into one Excel file to easily create or extend this data source.
Pulling Data from SQL
Another way that Excel provides for you to pull data from an outside source and paste it into your Excel data dump is by connecting your workbook to an SQL server. The easiest way to get started with this function is to use the Data Connection Wizard in the Data tab of your workbook. Once you have connected to an SQL server, you can always refresh it to pull out updated data.
5. Know Which Functions and Formulas Slow Excel Down
Excel has a wide range of formulas, functions and controls that you can use to do pretty much anything you want it to, but this feature can be a blessing or a curse. The massive amounts of formulas, functions and controls can take a while to learn and some of them actually slow the program down significantly when not used properly. Here are some excellent tips for maximizing the speed of Excel:
- Remove multiple or unnecessary formulas
- Limit formulas to the specific rows where you need them
- Avoid linking to other workbooks
- Minimize your use of ActiveX controls, such as text boxes, check boxes and option buttons
- Avoid pasting pictures in the workbook
- Avoid using custom VBA formulas, especially when they are being used to compute sets of data based on cell colors or other non-standard attributes. Please note that VBA can also be used to maximize efficiency when it is used properly. For example, VBA can be used to create specific macros that will enhance calculation speed, or to turn off pivot table calculations during updates.
- Maximize the use of VLookup by inserting specific rules. When you want to convert formulas, you should use copy-paste special.
However you choose to use Excel, there’s no doubt that there are a number of great benefits to be reaped when you use it to its full potential. If you’re looking for a straightforward, hassle-free, easy to use and most importantly – an affordable – platform for recording, managing, tracking and analyzing any of your business data, Excel offers everything you need and more. Combining the tips above will help speed up and increase the performance of Excel.
As a member of the Pre-Sales Engineer team at iDashboards, Ben Clark assists clients, partners and prospects with finding solutions that will make their life easier while working with data. Outside of work, you can find Ben staying active with sports, traveling and spending as much time outside as possible.