You might think that this point will be about hard work and determination. It’s not. You might think it’s about acquiring the most knowledge. You’d be wrong. I don’t care if you’re the hardest working person in your cube farm and you have Bill Jelen in a hole in your basement. There are two things you need if you want to go from average to great.
Many of you are groaning even though you saw this coming a mile away. But hear me out. Even the Excel masters who aren’t as keyboard-crazy as me still use their keyboard more than the average user. To be great at Excel, or anything else, you have to use it. That means practice. That means making mistakes. That means fixing those mistakes and trying again.
Terrible analogy alert: There are two people who wish to be great at breaking up a rack of billiards balls, so they practice. The first person can re-rack the balls in ten seconds. The second person takes one minute. I can’t predict which person will end up better, but the first person will have a greater opportunity because he will have broken more racks per hour of practice.
Keeping your hands on the keys rather than in the air between the keyboard and mouse won’t make you great at Excel. But it will give you more iterations using any piece of software you want to learn (except Minesweeper).
Move your mouse to the left side of your keyboard for two hours, one day per week. You’ll learn more keyboard shortcuts in those two hours our of sheer frustration than you would in a whole day of trying to remember them.
Many things in Excel go from impossible to simple by changing how the data is organized. If you can’t quite get that pivot table to do what you want, it’s probably because you’re data isn’t laid out well. If that chart isn’t doing what you want, you probably need to restructure the underlying data. Go read peltiertech.com and see how my charting solutions involve setting up the data first. The answer is almost never “click the waterfall button”; the answer is usually organizing your data so it works with how charting features work.
You don’t need any formal training to learn how to organize your data. In fact, to get Excel to do what you want, sometimes you have to break the rules of data organization. However, I encourage anyone who wishes to excel at Excel to learn about databases. Learn what a record is. And a field. Learn the first three normal forms. Or you could buy Microsoft Access 2013 Bible, a little page turner that Mike Alexander and I wrote.
I imagine you have an opinion on how to be great at Excel. That’s the what the comments are for, so have at it.