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Five Excel© Features That Everyone Should Know

Microsoft Excel is just about as famous for being frustratingly difficult as it is for being exceedingly useful. These five tricks will make your data-crunching experience a much more relaxing one. 1. What Day Is It? Excel’s “Today” feature is no doubt a quick way to insert the day’s date into your spreadsheet. If you are not familiar with it, entering =TODAY() into a blank cell puts the day’s date into the cell. A word of warning, though – Even though this seems like it would be a useful tool to track when you input important data into your spreadsheet, the date will automatically update whenever you open the spreadsheet. If you wish to keep a log of when important data was put into your spreadsheet, Ctrl + ; will do just that. If you wish to input the date but not the time, Ctrl + Shift + ; will do the trick. (Extra tip: Inserting =NOW() will insert the day’s date and time into the cell.) 2. Protect Your Formulas! If you have important formulas you do not want others to see (such as how employees’ bonuses are figured) you can prevent Excel from showing that formula when the particular cell is highlighted: On the Excel toolbar click Edit + Go To Click the Special tab to open the Special menu Click Formulas and make sure all four of the options are checked. Click OK and Excel selects every cell that has a formula. Select Format, Cells, and choose Protection Place a check mark next to the Hidden option, and make sure that there is a check mark next to the Locked option. Click OK 3. Take Notes! On the topic of formulas, it is also possible to add hidden text to any particular formula. This is incredibly useful to help remember what each number in the formula represents. For example: you have a budget formula that reads “1000+ 250- 200*2.” If you are having trouble remembering what each number represents, simply add + N() behind the formula. Excel will translate the +N() into 0 and it will not affect your formula. Then you can add in notes (in quotation marks) to jog your memory for the next time you open the spreadsheet. For example: =100*(1+10%)+N(“10% was the projected increase from 2011’s rates″) What this formula is actually doing: =100*(110%)+0 4. Freeze Panes As if number crunching wasn’t already painful enough, it becomes exceedingly difficult as you work farther and farther down or to the right. There is nothing more frustrating than forgetting what each row or column represents, scrolling all the way back up to remember, and then rapidly scrolling back down to begin working again. Luckily, Excel has realized this frustration and included a “freeze pane” feature that will keep a column/or moving as you move in the worksheet. Simply click and select the row below or the column to the right of where you want to freeze. Then, on the Window menu, select Freeze Panes. Viola! You will never forget what you are inputting again. 5. Where Did That Column Go? Oh, There It Is. There are a never-ending amount of situations within Excel when you just may not want to include information that was pertinent to you with others. You may be displaying productivity reports to the office, but you don’t want everyone privy to who exactly it was that somehow managed negative productivity. Excel allows users to hide columns in the spreadsheet before printing and while working. To hide a column: Highlight the columns/rows you want to hide. Click Format, Column, Hide To...

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A Simple Mail Merge Can Save You Time

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/6/12] If you have a list of contacts on your computer and are ready to start mailing to a large group of them, then you can put down your pen and let your computer do all the dirty work. With two of the most popular Microsoft programs, Word and Excel, you can quickly and easily create a mail merge system for your contacts. A mail merge is the combination of a data source and a word processing document to produce mailing labels, envelopes, form letters and more. It is an extremely powerful tool that most administrative professionals use to save tons of manual labor time. The way a mail merge works is that you must begin with some kind of data source. This can come in many forms including a table from a database, a list of your Outlook contacts, a CSV file or even a simple Excel spreadsheet. Since most contact applications can export to a spreadsheet format, Excel can be used in a variety of scenarios for your business. Once you have a data source prepared properly, you can open Microsoft Word and begin the mail merge process. This begins with either a blank document or you can even use a pre-existing document. Envelopes and mailing labels come in standard sizes, and Microsoft has these already built into the program, too. By inserting placeholder fields into the mail merge document, you are allowing the program to replace the placeholders with actual values from your data source. This will repeat for every record in your data source. In a form letter example, you also have the option to customize individual letters, just in case you want to send a more personalized message to an individual client. When it is time to print the mail merge document, you simply finalize your merge and advance to print the entire batch. A mail merge is an amazing tool for simple administrative tasks, and the reach of how it might save you time is limitless. So, the next time you need to send those holiday cards to a huge list, check out a mail merge and save yourself some precious time. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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Business Book Club: Would You Like to Achieve a State of Stress-Free Productivity?

  In this day-and-age, we’re all juggling so many different responsibilities: a gazillion passwords, emails, hard copies, phone calls, Facebook, blogs, work responsibilities – tasks, files, projects, meetings, reports; home responsibilities – eating, cleaning, family, chores, insurance companies, cleaning out the garage (is that task ever completed or does it just live on the to do list permanently for you too?). So, how do we simplify things in an ever-growing-more-complicated world?  By having a simple yet surefire system for helping you keep track of everything that needs to get done with reminders of when it needs to be completed, all without taking up anymore of our already crammed mental ram!  Getting Things Done, by David Allen, outlines an ideal system that is simple, and customizable for your unique needs.   According to David Allen’s book, the key to a successful workflow system is: Documenting every single activity, project, task, etc.  EVERYTHING Process everything through an inbox Determine what the next physical action is for each item Organize everything into different categories that are visually, physically and psychologically separate  Put action triggers for each category where you’ll see them So, how does this translate to technology?  There are a number of computer programs out there that can help you implement this work flow management system.  I use Things MAC and I have it on both my computer and my iPhone.  Two other popular programs are Nozbe and MyLifeOrganized.  Check them out and see which one fits your needs and feels right for you.  Keep in mind, you don’t need to use software to implement this workflow management system if it isn’t a fit.  At the very least, David Allen’s system can help you to better manage your inbox! Are you one of those people that has an inbox filled with 1,000+ messages (at least half of which go unread)?  I was!  And I had always heard from colleagues that keeping your inbox empty is a great management tool but never had an effective system that ensured the important stuff didn’t get lost.  David Allen recommend a simple solution and ever since I implemented it I process my inbox daily and it stays EMPTY.  Are you ready for this simply effective secret? Create these three folders (or tags) @Action @Read and Review @Waiting If something requires an action, you need to write an email back, or edit a draft of a document, then put it in the @Action folder.  If you just need to read over an email, like all those newsletters you enthusiastically and naively signup for, then put it in the @Read and Review folder.  And if there’s an email that you’re waiting for a response from someone else, put it in the @Waiting folder.  Pretty simple, yeah?  Just remember to review those folders regularly to stay on top of things and viola, you too can have an empty email inbox. The challenge for me and anyone implementing David Allen’s workflow management system, is the discipline to actively practice it day-in and day-out until it becomes habit.  Discipline is the sixth and possibly the most vital key to achieve a state of stress-free productivity. About the Author: Ariana Friedlander is the Founder and Principal for Rosabella Consulting, LLC and has over nine years of experience working with small businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to create strategies for successful organizational growth. A dedicated life-long learner, she is also the Lead Facilitator for EntrepreNerds. Getting Things Done was read and reviewed at EntrepreNerds, a business book club for professionals and entrepreneurs who are committed to expanding their knowledge and skills through self-paced learning. Every month EntrepreNerds participants read the assigned business book then come together for a...

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Microsoft Excel: Using Conditional Formatting

[Note: This article was originally published in The Coloradoan on 2/24/12] A client recently came in looking for help with Excel spreadsheet issues. As the director of a youth program, she was using an Excel spreadsheet to track participants’ enrollment information. She needed the name of an active participant to show in green. If the participant was transitioning out the name was to show in yellow, and if the participant had left the program, the name was highlighted in red. She had approximately 3,000 participants to work with at any given time, and she manually went through every entry to review the enrollment status and change the color accordingly. My first thought was “what a horrible waste of time.” Hopefully, we all know that computers save time when doing repetitive tasks, and a program such as Microsoft Excel was built to replace paper spreadsheets and at the same time make users more efficient in our daily lives. Along these lines, a feature of Excel that I love to teach people about is called “Conditional Formatting.” Conditional formatting is when you want to format cells in your spreadsheet based on one or more conditions. Based on criteria that you as the user can set, Excel can automatically highlight cells, create data bars, use icon sets, and much more. Below is an image showing what this dialog looks like in Excel: In my client’s example, I worked with her to set a conditional formatting statement that read “if the participant was in the youth program between a specific start date and a specific end date, then we will format the cells to background highlight in green. Or else, if they are transitioning out of the program, we will use a different format to background highlight in yellow.” And so on. Excel does all the dirty work of deciding when the participant falls under which condition, and formats accordingly. All of my client’s manual work is now replaced with literally a couple clicks of the mouse. The manual process of scrubbing through data certainly works for some situations and may be your only option. However, it also leaves a high risk for human error because human beings are much more prone to mistakes than a computer. So, let the computer and Excel do what they do best, handling your repetitive tasks cleanly and let Excel pick up the slack whenever possible. Stu Crair is owner of The Digital Workshop Center. Reach him at (970) 980-8091. Want to learn more about Microsoft Excel and what it can do? Register for one of our Excel classes...

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