5 common Excel mistakes

Microsoft Excel is widely used in organisations for both financial and information organisation activities…I’ve seen it in practice for anything from annual financial reports to sales analysis, contact lists and project tracking. Of course, it is better at some tasks than others and in some instances, it is used in the wrong capacity.

The basics of Excel are easy to master and easily allow the user to manipulate, manage and analyse data to assist in decision making and creating efficiencies that positively impact a business. It’s also so widely used it’s unlikely you’ll experience any compatibility issues sharing files.

I have been using Excel for years and most of what I have learned has been self-taught with lots of online searches to find the answers to problems I was experiencing. With practice, I have become an experienced user and thought I would list some common mistakes that are easy to fall foul, many of which I have first-hand experience of, so that you can avoid them and save yourself time…

Printing the whole spreadsheet

It’s easy to forget the size of an Excel workbook and just hit print so instead of a simple chart you end up with large amounts of excess paper and a backlog at the printer. Remember to select the information you would like to print and then go to File – Print – Print Selection to print just the highlighted data or set Print Area under the page layout tab. This will avoid the entire worksheet from printing, including pages of blank rows and columns.

Formatting the entire column or row

Another easy mistake is to select an entire column or row in Excel by clicking on the header but this will format the whole column or row rather than just your data and the extra formatting can slow down the worksheet and will be annoying when printing. Instead, remember to just select the data you would like to format and not the entire column/row.

Making errors when copying and pasting

Copying and pasting information can speed up the transfer of data but it can lead to mistakes and a risk of incorrect formulas/data. Use the Paste Special option to make sure that your formulas remain correct and make sure that the format of the number pasted across is correct, for example copying a phone number with a 0 in front will lose the 0.

Forgetting to protect your work

Another easy mistake to make is forgetting to protect the information in a spreadsheet before sharing it with others meaning that others can make changes to it and might unwillingly make changes to the structure or formulas that will affect the whole sheet. Make sure that any relevant cells are locked and permissions restricted to avoid future problems. Review – Protect Sheet / Protect Workbook and select the required permissions.

Inserting rows as a design feature

Excel will assume that data separated with blank rows is separate so some functions, such as auto-fill and auto sum won’t work and will mean adding a manual workaround. Be careful as your worksheet won’t update itself automatically with any data changes.

As with any system, it takes a bit of time to get used to but there are plenty of resources to help you learn and become an experienced user. The first step practices and learning as you go, you’ll find answers to many of your questions by searching online, there are dedicated Excel forums with expert users ready to give their advice. There is also the Microsoft help center and of course, online training courses are available at every level.

Alternatively, if you are short on time or struggling to get to grips with the functions you need you can always work with an expert who will create a bank of templates for you.

However you get on, keep in mind that even experts make mistakes, for fun this collection of the biggest Excel mistakes is worth a read!