3 Strategies To Learn Excel Faster

I get this question quite often, and I went over to Quora to see how other Excel experts and analysts are providing advice to newbies on how to learn Excel. If you are curious, my answers to Excel questions have been viewed more than 400,000 times. This shows that people are still using a tool that was created almost 30 years ago!

Excel ad from 1985

Anyway, back to how to learn Excel faster. Here are a few answers I found on Quora:

“Get some raw data and trying to answer questions with it.”

“Master the 20% of functions that make 80% of Excel work.”

“Use keyboard shortcuts.”

“First, find a project. Then, use the Internet to answer whatever questions you run into.”

The last tip is probably my favorite one out of the bunch. “Use keyboard shortcuts” is like telling someone who doesn’t know how to drive to use a stick shift for greater control.

I learned from job necessity, which is how I think most people learn. When you are thrown into the deep-end, you will quickly learn how to swim to stay alive. However, I think how people learn be it through your job or personal life is important to discuss, which is why I’m writing down these three strategies. As you zone out for the holidays, here are three tips to keep in mind when you return to the office in the near year.

#1: Answer Questions About Open Government Data

This is actually in-line with the first answer from Quora. Take any open data set and try to answer questions about the data. This is the main reason we use Excel, right? Take a spreadsheet of numbers and text and get some interesting insights from it based on some provided questions. Here, I’ll even do the work for you. Check out this dataset about soybean imports Data.gov. Answer questions like which country had the highest average imports over the last 10 years? What caused imports to decrease 5 years ago? Which countries experienced the most growth since the beginning of time? These questions force you to look for formulas and do calculations to find the answer.

#2: Watch YouTube Videos For Frameworks

Who doesn’t watch YouTube videos these days to learn a new skill? The reason I suggest watching YouTube videos is to understand Excel patterns for building and structuring your worksheet or model. You may know how to use formulas and play with tables, but putting things all together is sometimes difficult if you don’t have a template. In a work environment, you have the benefit of inheriting someone else’s Excel file which will have their formatting and styles all set up, you are just plugging in values. The best way to learn is to dissect a file from someone who is an experienced Excel analyst. From looking at their file, you can start to build your own patterns of formula building and formatting.

#3: Track Your Expenses In Google Sheets For A Week

You may already be using Mint or your credit card’s own expense tracking system, but I recommend doing it by hand in Google Sheets for a week. The reason is it forces you to set up a basic table of data and more importantly, seeing the numbers behind your spending habits has a tremendous impact on your psychology and biases. When you are collecting your own data vs. data from work, the analysis becomes much more personal and you are much more inclined to answer questions like: Where did I spend the most money this week? Did I really eat out THAT much? Why does my average spend increase at the end of the month? Working on a “personal” data set will encourage you to use Excel if you don’t have a job or some other forcing function requiring you to use Excel.