Spreadsheets can allow you to analyze data and create reports efficiently. But sometimes the tasks that are involved can be difficult or appear to be time-consuming. The good news is that there’s a lot of automation you can achieve in Excel, and it isn’t always necessary to know how to code in order to do so. Below, I’ll show you 10 types of tasks that you can automate in Excel either on your own or with our help.
1. Cleaning and parsing data
One of the more challenging things in Excel is when you’re dealing with a dataset that may not be easy to manipulate. For instance, if you’ve got text mixed in with numbers or dates that aren’t in the right format, Excel may not interpret or recognize the data properly. But there are many formulas that can help you with that. Rather than manually fixing the data, you can use functions like TRIM, CLEAN, LEFT, MID, and RIGHT to extract what you need while also getting rid of extra, unnecessary spaces and other characters.
If you’re looking for more of a walkthrough of the process, there’s a detailed explanation in this post of how to parse data.
Through the use of formulas, you can save hours that you might otherwise spend trying to clean up your spreadsheet. And the best part is that once you’ve set it up, you can re-use the formulas as you add more data. You don’t need to use macros or complicated coding to clean up; a well-structured template can be enough to do the job for you.
2. Creating simple reports
One of the best features of using Excel is that once you’ve entered data into a spreadsheet, it’s even easier to create a report from it. One example is through the use of a pivot table, where through just a few clicks you can easily summarize your data and split it along different categories. Slicers can make filtering and summarizing data even easier in pivot tables, especially for users who aren’t very familiar with Excel. Forget any manual work here; just a few clicks and you’ve got a report that can quickly summarize information in a table for you!
Alternatively, you can also insert charts easily and Excel will try and select the best one based on your data set. There’s also lots of formatting you can apply to charts so that they have the look and feel that you’re after. And once you’ve got a look that works, you can re-use it over and over again.
3. Creating dynamic dashboards
Dashboards are incredibly popular but they can be complex to set up. Then there’s also the challenge of updating it and making sure the data is up-to-date. It can easily take you hours every time to make sure the information is accurate.
However, in this post, I show you how to create a dynamic dashboard that not only won’t take you hours but that will automatically update as you add data to it. And then, you end up with a report that looks great to send to management to easily review and update.
4. Routine data entry
One of the biggest headaches people can face when using spreadsheets is when they hard-code calculations. A hard-coded calculation is where you don’t reference any cells and just put the result in the cell; it can make it nearly impossible to decipher how that number was calculated (especially if you’re not the person who entered the value). If you go to re-calculate it or update it, you could spend a lot of time just trying to figure out the calculation.
However, by using a formula, there’s no ambiguity as to how a value was calculated. Not only does that save you the time of entering in data but it also makes it easy to correct and update the figure. Ideally, you should minimize the number of places you’re manually entering data into. By doing that, you’ll have a much more robust template where your inputs are kept to a minimum which will eliminate the need for a lot of data entry and your other calculated fields will update automatically. This type of automation doesn’t require complex coding and just needs an Excel spreadsheet to be carefully constructed so that it is efficient and makes the most of formulas.
5. Conditional formatting
Oftentimes you’ll want to color-code your data to highlight things you should be paying attention to. If you’ve got an aged accounts receivable schedule, it is useful to highlight which accounts are more than 90 days overdue. You could manually filter the data and highlight all the cells or rows in red that are overdue, but you can just use conditional formatting to do that for you.
Through conditional formatting, you can create rules to determine when a cell or row should be highlighted in red, when you may want it to be in yellow, or when you may just want to hide the text so that you can easily skip over it. For example, hiding zero values can make it easy to focus on more important numbers.
You can apply many different formatting rules and can even put in a hierarchy to determine if you want to keep applying formatting rules or whether you want to stop if a specific criteria is met. Conditional formatting can be complex but it can be a huge time-saver by allowing you to focus on just the items that are important to you. And once you’ve set up the rules, you don’t need to worry about making changes every time you add new data.
Check out this post to learn about conditional formatting and how you can apply it to your spreadsheet.
6. Updating other workbooks and sheets
If you use multiple workbooks, then another area where you can avoid re-entering data is by linking both workbooks. There are numerous ways that you can do this. One approach involves just linking directly to another worksheet where data will automatically pull from another table.
You can also use the INDIRECT function to reference another worksheet or workbook. Just like with a template, once you set up these formulas and connections, they are there to stay and you can avoid having to manually make changes by yourself.
7. Audit tracking by logging changes
One of the neat features of many Office products is they allow you to track changes that are made. This is normally when you share a workbook with other users. However, through the use of macros, you can have a separate sheet that can tell you which values were changed, when, and by who.
Rather than manually noting these changes or relying on people to make the updates themselves, it doesn’t take much effort through a macro to create a log of what’s been changed.
8. Generating PDFs
One thing many advanced Excel users like to do is to use automation to export reports into PDFs. While there is a way to print to PDF, and it’s particularly easy on the newer versions of Excel, it can be a time-consuming process especially when you need to print out multiple sheets. Here again, with a simple macro, you can auto-generate PDFs and save them in a predefined folder all with the click of a button.
9. Sending emails
Another feature many users like is the ability to use automation to send out emails right from Excel. Through the use of macros, this is also possible. You can create a macro that will enter in the email of the recipient, attach a file, enter the body of the message, and even send the email itself. This can be even set up on a large scale, such as sending out invoices to dozens or hundreds of customers, a process that could easily save you hours worth of work.
10. Just about anything else with VBA
The power of programming in Excel can unlock many different possibilities with what you can automate. Whether it’s using automation to help import data and then manipulating it, creating custom reports, or following a series of complicated steps, there are many tasks in Excel that can be expedited with a few clicks of a button. As long as there’s some logic to the process that you can break into steps, then you can also build that into the code and automate it.
Don’t know where to start? Contact us!
There is significant potential in Excel but not everyone knows how to use automation to make the most of it and to make a spreadsheet as efficient as it can be. You can contact us if you have a certain Excel issue that you need help with or if one of the tasks above has perked your interest and you’d like to learn more. We can help create solutions for you that work efficiently and that can save you many hours, perhaps even days every month.
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