Reasons to excel at Excel....or any other spreadsheet program
I know what you’re thinking: in a world that is abuzz with innovations relating to AI, blockchain and IoT, how could I write about something as mundane as spreadsheets. They’re dry, they’re boring, they’re old fashioned…..and meant for finance geeks or scientists, right?
I’m here to tell you that spreadsheets, Excel or otherwise, can be enlightening, empowering, perhaps even exciting. And, they are most definitely for everyone, from students to artists to homemakers, bakers and teachers.
The reason is…data. It is all around us. It is estimated that 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone! But data is meaningless if you can’t organize and analyze it, allowing you to build a foundation of information that can aid decision-making. So, it’s critical to have tools and systems in place to effectively store and manage data.
Enter MS Excel, or any other spreadsheet program.
One program, many uses
Consider this, you are planning your wedding and need to track the following items: cost of outfits, venue, music and flowers, whose invitation has been sent and whose is still outstanding, list of gifts received and so on. Or imagine you’re a high school student managing your college applications, keeping track of deadlines, organizing required essays, cataloging extracurricular activities and books read over the past four years, and managing application costs.
In either scenario, yes, you could manage, using a notebook and hope you don’t lose it, and all your precious, time-sensitive, carefully curated data. Or you could create and maintain a spreadsheet to record the data, store it in the cloud, and have updated information available anywhere you go, with virtually zero risk of loss. You can tally total costs, sort your college list by due dates, apply a filter for wedding invitation status or even create a pivot table to cross-tabulate your personal badminton record from middle school onwards. And then, when it’s time for your sister’s wedding or cousin’s applications, you can hand your file over, giving the next person a jumpstart on the whole process. That way, you aren’t just compiling data for a discrete event, you are creating a system, a footprint, for someone else to follow.
Spreadsheets also allow you to compare different scenarios. Imagine, you’re thinking about purchasing a house or a new car. You could use a spreadsheet to evaluate the attractiveness of loans from different banks and/or of varying length. You can do this quickly, changing your assumptions to fine-tune the optimal solution for you, thereby avoiding an unexpectedly high rate of interest or ghastly monthly payment that may have resulted from a less structured methodology.
For poets and quants
Spreadsheets are useful even to seniors and non-office goers. One senior citizen, who didn’t want to maintain reams of paper in her small Mumbai apartment, had her 10-year-old granddaughter teach her how to use Excel and now uses a Hindi keyboard to track payments to household staff, analyze grocery prices over time and catalog all her jewelry.
With three kids, two businesses and assets across multiple continents, my husband and I rely on spreadsheets to organize and manage our family’s myriad activities. From documenting weekly meal plans to creating exam study schedules and maintaining packing lists for different types of trips, spreadsheets provide a structured shortcut to tackle the mundane tasks of daily life. I volunteered to compile my daughters’ class lists using Google Sheets, which allows multiple people to edit documents simultaneously. This dynamic tool has helped the school community maintain accurate records without overburdening any single parent with the task of updating.
If you use spreadsheets across different realms of your life, you will begin to notice a change in the way you filter and process data to create information and, over time, knowledge. Spreadsheets encourage structured thinking - they aren’t “forgiving” of missing data and so, you learn over time to ensure you have a full data set (whether using spreadsheet or not) to make decisions. For example, when in a restaurant, you wouldn’t pull up a spreadsheet program but, if you’re used to using one, you will mentally compare your options, considering calorie count, price, number of ingredients, and so on. Your order decision will likely be more optimized (i.e., satisfying) than if you had selected an item based on whim or fancy or at random.
As the co-founder and leader of a start-up growing at a steady clip, I regularly come across diverse talent and yet I’m still amazed by how many people, especially new college graduates, fear spreadsheets and data. In our recruiting activities, I prioritize candidates who have a portfolio of skills - including Excel - and talents that will empower them to handle a range of situations or be re-deployed as market conditions evolve.
Having the ability to masterfully navigate a spreadsheet instantly improves your employability and gives you options. You may see a 10-15% jump in your compensation if you demonstrate a keen understanding of the power of spreadsheets and the ability to apply that knowledge. Regardless of your role, chances are that a spreadsheet could help you do your job better. Being great at spreadsheets can make you the go-to person in the office; when a manager or co-worker needs some Excel wizardry, you could step in and earn extra bonus points along the way.
Admittedly, spreadsheets can be intimidating. It’s just a matter of learning (you can take courses), practicing and having the patience to develop the habit. Learning to create systems of data can help you both personally and professionally. So, start now and see what spreadsheets can do for you.