What everybody ought to know about Microsoft Excel

How I mastered Excel in 3 weeks

Almost everybody in business uses Excel on a daily basis; however, very few people learn how to use Excel efficiently.

When I was 20, I tried to master Excel as fast as possible during a corporate finance internship.

It took me about 3 weeks of dedicated time to “master” Excel during a corporate finance internship in college.

What does “master” mean? At the end of my 3 weeks I was able to:

  • Use Excel 100% without a mouse (increasing my speed 3–5X)
  • Format data correctly (custom formats, lock cell references, and some basic best practices)
  • Clean, manipulate, analyze & visualize large sets of data
  • Design automated data models that were extremely well organized and someone else could take over
  • Write advanced conditional formulas (like Vlookup, If-Then, and some others)
  • Perform “what-if-analysis” (sensitivity analysis) which allows you to look at a bunch of possible scenarios to examine the outcomes
  • Chop up big data sets using pivot tables

Take this list and save it somewhere. This list of skills put me in the top 5% of business users.

But I was only able to do this because I had a mentor who told me what to learn, and what not to learn.

I only needed to learn the important business-focused functions, and then I ignored the rest of Excel.

In fact, in business, about 80% of your work will come from 20% of the functionality of the Microsoft Excel.

Only a very small handful of skills (summarized in the list above) make up the vast majority of Excel work.

So let’s do a quick lesson on mouse-free navigation to get you rolling.

Start here — how to increase speed 300% in Excel

While there are many time saving formulas, but there is one skill that is the ultimate hack to saving ridiculous amounts of time in Excel.

To begin, the lowest hanging fruit is to learn how to navigate Excel without a mouse.

Your #1 priority should be to learn how to go mouse-free.

You increase your speed 3–5X when you get rid of the mouse. The best way to start learning this is to:

  1. Hit the ALT key — you’ll see letters and number shows up all over the menu, that’s how you navigate from now on
  2. Print out a page of Keyboard Shortcuts (search keyboard shortcuts on google images) and tape it to your computer

Getting comfortable using Excel without a mouse will take about 2–3 weeks.

Here’s a starting point — the following list has shaved hundreds of hours off my work, freeing me up to do other things!

High-volume keyboard shortcuts that have saved tons of time for me:

  • CRTL + Z = Undo
  • CTRL + Y = Redo
  • F2 = Edit Cell
  • CTRL + S = Save
  • ESC = Cancel Function
  • CTRL + Arrow Keys = Zoom around spreasheets
  • CTRL + Page Up = Navigate one tab to the left
  • CTRL + Page Down = Navigate one tab to the right
  • ALT = Mouse-free Excel navigation

Whatever you do most (with the mouse) should be your top keyboard shortcut target.

Mastering the rest of the high-volume skills

In addition to mouse-free Excel use, you’ll need to start working on that magic list up above.

Fortunately, the concepts aren’t particularly difficult to learn.

There are tons of resources online for free. Start with Google & Youtube.

Or if you’re interested in saving some time, take a short business-focused online course.

I’d recommend the following business-focused Excel course focused on mastering the 20% of functions that make up 80% of Excel work.

Become an Excel Power User in 2.5 Hours

And whatever you do, please do not try to learn all of Excel. It has so many useless functions for business people.