Ten Excel Mistakes That Are Plaguing Your Daily Microsoft Excel Use (And How to Solve Them)

Ask any IT professional who’s ever worked as a helpdesk administrator about common tickets, and you’re bound to hear numerous tales of beginner’s mistakes in Excel. Some inquiries will entail legitimately tricky questions. Others might be finance or accounting professionals trying to get them to do their work on the sly. But you’ll also get a raft of often avoidable beginner’s mistakes that are usually made over and over again. Here’s some of what you might hear, which may be familiar if you use Excel yourself.

Mistaking Excel for Other Applications

Non-IT staff who need a relational database may be using Excel — poorly — to fulfill those functions. Experienced users know Excel is not the solution for housing data that needs to be continually updated, searched, organized, displayed in multiple ways, and shared among various users. You may even hear that non-IT staff have referred to an Excel worksheet as their “database,” even as they request help displaying Excel data in specific ways. Alternatively, some users utilize Excel to manage lists when they could be using simpler and more effective tools for this purpose.

Using a Draft Worksheet as the Final Document

For some reason, employees often use the same worksheet they used to calculate their work as their final document. Taking the time to create a separate worksheet on which outcomes reside can help Excel users identify errors in their work more effectively and create a more compelling presentation.

Failing to Check Their Formulas

It’s easy to set up the wrong formulas, but the wrong formulas can result in expensive errors in many cases. Employee errors have resulted in inaccurate financial statements submitted to regulators, procurement departments ordering the wrong quantity of goods, and other serious mistakes. Excel users should always take the time to cross-check their calculations to ensure their formulas work.

Adding Design Features That Impair Updates

Worksheets that don’t update properly are often the result of the inclusion of blank rows designed to make the worksheet more aesthetically pleasing. There are ways to accentuate Excel worksheets, but the data and calculations should always come first. In Excel, accuracy should not be sacrificed for appearance. In fact, forgoing aesthetics on sheets where the calculations are performed is likely the best bet. Users should leverage a separate sheet to provide and display outcomes. That sheet can and should be enhanced with design features, not data or formula sheets.

Not Using Data Validation

With worksheets in which multiple employees inputted data, sometimes the expected updates don’t occur because the data inputted is inconsistent. For example, the Frequency function won’t work properly if a column contains multiple abbreviations or spelling of a specific text string. Using data validation can force users to input the correct data by forcing them to choose their inputs from a narrow selection set.

Improperly Merging Cells

Another design issue that can impair formulas and functions? Inadvertently merging cells over a cell or cells containing key data. Keeping cell mergers confined to the top row only and away from the data itself can help users avoid this mistake. Avoiding cell mergers on any sheet except for that in which your outcomes are housed is even more effective.

Hard Coding Data into Cells

Sometimes users type the formula and data into each cell rather than have the data in one sheet and have formulas in another sheet reference it. By hard coding the data in each cell, users waste time and increase the risk of errors that take considerable time to correct. If there is data in one sheet and formulas in the other, and an error arises, users can check the formulas quickly and make the necessary corrections. But if hardcoded, users need to review every single cell to find the typo or typos that created the error.

Mixing Text with Data

Formulas and functions are useless when applied to columns that contain a combination of text and numbers. Sticking with one data format in each column can ensure regularly and accurately updated worksheets. But even a single string character mistakenly inputted in a column of numerical data can skew an entire worksheet.

Formatting the Worksheet for Printing Accurately

Printers jam all the time. But the odds of them jamming are greatly increased when employees inadvertently print their entire worksheet, rather than just the relevant data. It’s an avoidable error that can waste IT staff time, not to mention reams of paper, when all that an employee needed to do was choose the “Print Selection” option.

Waiting Until the Last Minute

Excel users are often assigned complex tasks, which may involve a good deal of problem-solving. Procrastination may have them reaching out to IT to help them figure out quick fixes for complex problems. Excel can help users sort, organize, and transform data. But it can’t help them identify which data to gather and input, nor how to input it to manipulate it the way the task requires. Nor can IT staff. Whether a complex optimization models’ results are due on the CEO’s desk in an hour, if the proper time isn’t allocated to the Excel task in question, it won’t get done by the deadline.

Helpdesk IT staff routinely receive calls about Excel, no matter how many trainings are provided or how many workers note they are Excel experts on their resume. Some employees do take the time to grow their knowledge of the program and improve their skills. Others, unfortunately, continuously make the same mistakes, costing IT personnel the time they could use to improve the organization’s tech stack, upgrade its security, or enhance its ecommerce operations.

If your business’ IT staff are similarly consumed with Excel problems or other mundane inquiries, it’s time to consider outsourcing your helpdesk. Working with an experienced IT firm like tech42, you can ensure that your staff are getting the daily IT support they need while your IT staff has the time they need to help your business grow.

We work with businesses in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton area, offering outsourced helpdesk services and managed IT services and professional support for your cloud, network, security, data migration, phone system and software needs. Our experienced staff work alongside your team to provide the customized solutions you need to secure, scale, and support your business. And we employ a partner agnostic approach, pursuing only the tech solutions that will help you achieve your desired outcomes.

We at tech42 look forward to collaborating with you and your team. Contact us today to get started.