Why You Should Stop Doing Manual Spreadsheet Work

Copying and pasting from one cell to another? Sorting through data trying to find the signal from the noise? Up-level this and go through your entire day when you’re sitting at your desk doing “work.” Creating calendar invites, copying and pasting from Excel into PowerPoint, formatting a spreadsheet until it’s perfect. These are things people generally consider to be their “job” yet complain about how mind-numbing the work actually is.

That’s all this work is: mind-numbing.

Most consultants and business analysts are introduced to Excel and learn quickly how to do do things faster like a paste special using keyboard shortcuts. In terms of writing formulas and functions, they’ll have their go-to functions like VLOOKUP(), INDEX(), and MATCH(). Back when I was an an analyst, ASAP Utilities was not widely known but many of my colleagues across all parts of the organization were using this nifty little Excel plugin. The value was clear; this plug-in saved you time in terms of stripping out text and structuring your sheet.

Learning just one new simple hack or shortcut to save you time is great, imagine having a whole handful of these shortcuts in one nice neat package? The problem is that people want more from ASAP Utilities, and like how you can select cells based on color and content but want to be able to select by cell location, for instance. There are always new cases that ASAP cannot solve or any new plugin cannot solve, which leaves you with two options:

  1. Do the manual work (ugh. sucks.)
  2. Write your own tool (huh?)

Try To Eliminate Your Job

I wrote in the past about how I pretty much eliminated my job by using VBA to create hundreds of reports for me with the click of a button. It was empowering to know that I could eliminate my job. While ASAP Utilities and other plugins were able to automate 50% of my job, I looked into new formulas and eventually VBA to figure out how repetitive tasks that were unique to my work could be automated. Each percentage of the job that I automated led me to want to automate the next percent, and the percent after that. I became obsessed with not doing any manual work since it is a waste of your MBA-educated and executive-trained time.

People complain that their work is mind-numbing but are not willing to put in the time and patience to understand how they can improve their situation. Does the engineer send you the report late every week? Research how he or she is pulling the data and see if you can pull the data yourself. Are there formatting mistakes in the PowerPoint? Look into slide masters or tying the source for graphs back to the actual Excel file. Each step of your job that is manual will always be subject to human error, and the more you can automate each step the faster the task gets done and the more error-free the output is.