Business Tips | Dashboards and Data Viz | Tips & Tricks

What To Know When Creating Excel Dashboards

If you’re running a business, you probably already know how essential Excel spreadsheets are to your organization. There’s a reason so many companies work in the Microsoft Office Suite: it’s versatile, affordable, and compatible with nearly every data source out there. If you’re managing your business data with Excel, you’re probably doing your budget a big favor. But is this at the expense of data clarity?

Beyond saving money, one of the main objectives of using Excel 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. Closely monitoring KPIs is essential to the success of both departments within a business, and to the health of the organization as a whole.

Though Excel is fairly easy to use the outset, data spreadsheets can become very complicated very quickly. When you create a report in Excel, you are given the option to perform a number of different functions, such as finding the sum of certain cells, trimming the empty space out of cells, or even comparing two or more separate spreadsheets. While these functions do come in handy for certain tasks, they can result in a disorganized, malfunctioning mess of a spreadsheet.

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Data visualization with Excel data only works if the spreadsheet is set up properly. If it’s not, 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 successfully creating and optimizing Excel dashboards, whether within the program or with a data visualization layer, we’ve put together a handy-dandy list.

Top 10 Ways to Optimize Excel for Better Performance

Optimize excel dashboards

1. Check Your Computer’s RAM

While Excel can be a great data tool, it requires a good amount of memory to function properly. Make sure that your computer has a good amount of free RAM space. If it does not, consider upgrading your computer, adding more RAM, or switching to a faster processor. Performing any one of these steps will ensure smooth functioning when you do decide to create a dashboard in Excel.

2. Be Meticulous when Planning Your Spreadsheet Design

Before you create a report in Excel, you must begin by planning your layout. 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.

It’s also important to understand how Excel programs make calculations. Before Excel performs 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, as well as to ensure the best excel dashboard software performance, it is essential that you use an organized and logical flow with all of your dependencies on one Excel spreadsheet. For maximized data visualization with Excel, you should also keep your formulas minimal and organized so that they aren’t jumping all over the workbook in unnecessary duplicates, which will slow the program’s speed significantly.

3. Understand Named Range Creationhow to optimize excel spreadsheets

Named Ranges are essential to creating dashboards. What you choose to name the objects and values in your dashboard in Excel needs to make sense from a few different perspectives, so choose your names wisely. While you must be able to identify a particular object in your data set, you’ll want to choose names that allow others within your organization – from programmers to HR – to understand the data in your Excel tables as well.
When creating Excel dashboards, consider the perspective of the computer and choose names that you can use easily in formulas and 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 they 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

Another way to optimize excel is to know which functions to use for data formatting. There are a few simple ways for you to compare two Excel files or pull data from multiple sheets or another database and combine it all into one workbook.

If-Then Statements

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 dashboard in Excel to 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 an essential tool for pulling specific information from a data set. Fortunately, this function is pretty easy to use, but pay close attention 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). This function is only able to pull data from the columns to the right of the table’s first column. 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 VLookup’s best attributes is that it can be used to compare two Excel files and merge the data from each, allowing you to pull data for analysis from several seemingly unrelated data sets.

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 enables you to pull data from an outside source and paste it into your dashboard in Excel 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, a feature that is both a blessing and 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 optimizing Excel to improve speed and performance:

  • 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. Extant VBA formulas, however, when used properly can create specific macros that enhance calculation speed or 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

6. Delete Columns and Rows That Aren’t Being Used

If you have calculations that are used more than once, you can create helper columns, which will eliminate double calculations. how to optimize excel performanceYou should
also delete unused cells and rows, especially if they extend well beyond your data. Keep your tables trim and organized. By removing the columns and rows that extend past your data set, you will be reducing the file size and helping increase the speed of the program.

7. Organize Your Data Properly for Optimal Data Visualization With Excel

There is a big difference between human readable data and raw byte data. Namely, one allows humans to be able to read Excel data reports, while the other allows machines to read the data and make calculations based on it. When creating Excel dashboards, you may find it helpful to make two separate worksheets for your data: one for human readable data, and the other for raw data.

8. Avoid the Use of Volatile Functions

Volatile functions can drastically slow Excel down when they aren’t used properly. The tricky thing about these functions is that the formulas automatically recalculate whenever you enter any data anywhere in any open workbook. This happens even if the change in data didn’t have anything to do with the volatile functions you had set. When this happens, Excel is then triggered to recalculate every dependent cell from the volatile formula. This can turn into a nightmare fast, so be careful when using volatile formulas. In fact, we recommend avoiding them all together, if possible, when creating Excel dashboards.

optimize in excel9. Use Power Pivot or Pivot Tables

Pivot Table is a function that has been a part of Excel for decades. It is especially helpful for beginners who are unfamiliar with SQL to analyze data from two different sources at once. This function is great for smaller databases, but it is unable to analyze more than Excel’s limit of 1,048,576 rows. This becomes an issue for larger databases. Power Pivot can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to import, merge, and prepare data from multiple data sources. With this powerful add-in, you have the ability to import tables from virtually any data source, including Azure, SQL, Access, Oracle, and more, so that you can relate all of the separate data to one another and analyze it in any way you wish.

10. Clean Up Your Data

If you want Excel to run smoothly and efficiently, you must make sure that you clean up the data inside it. In some cases, this must be done before you can even analyze the data. There are a lot of handy features that help you keep your data clean and ensure optimal data visualization with Excel. You can even write some code or record a macro to set an automated process that will clean the data automatically. If you are not familiar with coding, you can clean each area individually. Here are some tips for cleaning your dashboard in Excel to ensure
optimal function and viewing:

  • Remove nonprinting characters from text, such as spaces and some symbols
  • Spell check and change the text’s cases
  • Fix numbers and number signs or find and replace text
  • Fix dates and times
  • Remove duplicate rows, merge and split columns, and rearrange columns and rows
  • Join or match data to reconcile data in a table

Bonus Tip: Always remember to create a backup of your original data in a new Excel workbook before using a clean function!

Read next: 5 Additional Ways to Optimize Your Excel Usage

Get the Best Excel Dashboard Performance

Excel is an exceptionally powerful data tool when you know how to optimize it properly. Plan your design, know what slows it down, get familiar with your functions, and start creating Excel dashboards. Once you get the hang of optimizing Excel and using it to its maximum potential, you can work wonders for your business until you need a larger database with more features.

However you choose to use Excel, there’s no doubt that there are a number of great benefits to reap when you use it to its full potential. Combining the tips above will help speed up and increase the performance of Excel, allowing you to achieve the best Excel dashboard software performance possible.

Interested in taking your Excel reporting to the next level?  With iDashboards, you can turn your spreadsheets into customized, automated dashboards for optimal data visualization. Start creating dashboards today for free (and without any coding) by clicking here!

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Ben Clark Pre-Sales Engineer @iDashboards

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.


  1. It’s very usefult to adopt a standard way to give blocks and “columns” their names. It become so imprtant when you have to pass your excel file to another person but mainly if you have to export your data in another tool. A good standard could save a loto of time when moving data!

  2. Very good advice about identifying a naming convention for use in Excel with named ranges, calculations and even as simple as tabs and sticking to it. Good for both the end user and the person using the spreadsheet to veing data into Idashboard and other platforms.

  3. Great article! Speaking of Excel formulas…remember that it may be better to do some easier calculations in your SQL rather than in your spreadsheet – especially if your workbook is getting weighed down by so many formulas all over your spreadsheets!

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