Category Archives: Excel

Flash Fill in Excel 2013 and Above

Why You Need Flash Fill…

Flash Fill is a time-saving feature that reads patterns in adjacent columns and Lightening Flash
automatically fills the remaining cells in a column based on those patterns. It is useful when you need to join cells (Excel calls this Concatenate), or separate information in cells without wanting to write a cumbersome formula. You might already know the Text to Columns feature but this is faster and easier – Kind of like AutoFill on steroids!

Flash Fill should automatically be on by default but you can check here: File tab > Options> Advanced:

This amazing tool will make short work of many repetitive tasks, all without formulas (or the Text to Columns feature)! Just make sure you are working next to the column(s) you want to Flash Fill. Here’s just a few of the things it can do:

Splitting Input Data

You received a huge spreadsheet where someone has put first and last names in one column, and you need them separated for sorting and filtering. (This could be any data, i.e., department name and phone extension, or salesperson and monthly sales figure. Doesn’t matter as long as the data has a separator, such as a space). Flash Fill to the rescue…

Example: Full names are in Column A. Here’s the steps:

Insert:  two columns to right of Column A, and enter appropriate column header labels.

Type:  “Fred”, in appropriate cell ( B2 in example).

Press:  ENTER to go to cell below.

Type:  “Mary” (note that Excel has figured out what you are doing; displays the remainder of first names, and is awaiting your approval).

Press:  ENTER, and presto, all the rest of the first names are added!

Repeat the above steps in the cells for Last name (In example, C2)

List is now complete:

Just Want Last Names?

You can have flash fill complete only the last name, i.e., just insert one column, and instead of typing “Fred”, you would type “Frump”, ENTER, then “Lamb”, ENTER, and you would be done.

Combining Data

You can do the reverse of splitting data when you have or receive a workbook with data that is in two columns and you would like combined into one.

Example: Fred is in Column A and Frump in Column B:

  • Insert a blank column to right of Column B.
  • Type the first instance the way you would like it displayed, i.e., Fred Frump or Frump, Fred.
  • Press ENTER and start to type the second example. Excel should display the preview for the balance of the column. Just press ENTER to complete.

You Mean Flash Fill Does More?

Give Excel one or two examples of what you are trying to accomplish so Flash Fill can see a pattern. It will work with text, email addresses, dates, numbers and time:

If Flash Fill does not appear to work when entering the second example, you can activate it from the Ribbon: Data  tab > Flash Fill or keyboard with CTRL E. Just click in the second cell (ensure blank) and use the Ribbon command to fill down the column.

ALERT: Be aware that if you change source data, cells containing flash fill data will not update as there are no formulas involved.

There are many other ways to use Flash Fill. Now that you can save all that time entering data, what ways will you use it?

Reasons to Format Excel Spreadsheets with Cell Styles

Use Cell Styles to Format in Excel to save time and frustration and look smart doing it!

Here’s why you want to use Cell Styles to format Excel data:

  • Apply professional formatting to a worksheet in a flash.
  • Consistency across worksheets.
  • Built-in styles are labelled according to purpose for easy use.
  • Styles are customizable so you can edit existing styles or create your own to match your needs.
  • One click formatting.

Have you ever wondered how to format a spreadsheet in a hurry? Here’s a simple example of a worksheet with boring, unformatted data:

Name Region Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total
Smith South 21223 17855 24855 21377 85310
Jones Southwest 23456 29550 24294 25335 102635
Wing North 19954 22600 19448 26450 88452
Baker South 17564 25439 32944 24000 99947
Folsom North 28543 28540 24400 28550 110033
Range Northwest 19534 30558 21844 19605 91541
McKnight West 20585 29667 27595 13605 91452
Crump South 24957 31322 15330 27550 99159
Rogers North 30332 27407 26440 24007 108186
Morris East 25395 27700 16500 27500 97095
Rollins South 35822 31854 24384 31005 123065
Jefferson Southwest 20949 23100 21774 27550 93373

But now you get a call to send it to a co-worker or the boss or it has to be ready for a presentation. Using individual formatting tools, it can take longer to format than it took to create it!

Format the Column headers and Data Content

Want to look smart really fast? Here’s the fix…First, I want to format the header row:

Select the header row in the worksheet

On the Home tab, in the Styles group, click Cell Styles icon:

If you have a larger screen and/or higher resolution, you may see several cell styles already displayed. See all styles by clicking the More arrow button at the bottom of the scroll bar for the group.

This box below will display with lots of options that are labelled for specific uses but you can use them for any purpose you choose. Roll your mouse over the sections and because they are live preview, you can see the results before you actually choose the option. I want Heading 1 for my header row, so I point and click to apply it.

I’ve selected Heading 1 under the Titles and Headings section:

Next select the body of the spreadsheet:

Click Cell Styles again, and choose whatever style you think would look best for your data. (If you are using Input Style, don’t include the Total column as you’ll probably want to use the Calculate Style for that to indicate formulas).

Total Row Style

If you have a total row, quickly make your totals stand out with the Total Style:

Data and Model Section

A way to alert users about which data they can edit is to use the Input and Calculation styles under the Data and Model section. It can’t stop them from overwriting formulas, etc., but it does signify the ranges that they should not edit. If you don’t like the default colors, you can change them. (See below)

Remove Styles

So, you’ve been playing and got carried away and now your data looks like a kindergarten project! Don’t worry if you goof and want to remove a style. Just select that range of cells; go back to the Cell Styles icon to the Style group and click on Normal to reset the cells to your default font style and size. (Located in the upper left of the first section, Good, Bad

Customize/Create Styles for Text

You can modify any style or leave the original styles and create a duplicate for your new style. I would recommend the latter. Here’s how to make changes in font, color, etc. for any style:

Example here is for Heading 1:

  • Click the Cell Styles icon (Home tab, Styles group).
  • Right click over the style you want to change.
  • Choose Duplicate (or Modify if you want to edit the original style) to display the Style box:

  • Change the name.
  • Click the Format… button and make desired changes. (Ensure Font tab is selected).
  • Click OK, OK.

Changes to Numerical Data Styles

If you want to change the Input or Calculation or any other numerical styles to add number formatting as well, the process is the same except you:

  • Right click over the style name.
  • Choose Duplicate.
  • Type in a new style name.
  • Click on the Number tab in the Format Cells dialog box.
  • Click on Currency in the Category pane.
  • Choose if you want the style to always display 2 decimal places or change to 0 if you want that for the style.
  • Make any other desired changes to Font, Alignment, etc., using the tabs at top.
  • Click OK, OK.

Apply Customized Styles

This can be a little confusing after modifying a style as it looks like nothing happened. The new style is not applied to your selected data. because you have created the style but not yet applied it.

When you customize or create new styles, Excel adds a Custom section to the top of the Cell Styles list. Just select desired data, click Cell Styles and click on your customized style. I added Currency formatting to the Input Style but left the background cell color; applied Currency formatting for the Calculate Style but changed to red color so it would be obvious not to enter data in those cells:

I selected the quarterly data to apply my customized Input Style, and then selected the Total column to apply my new Calculation Style. If there is also a Totals row, I would select them both first, and then go to Cell Styles and click my customized style:

Create your own styles and save a bundle of time while looking darn professional as well!

Let me know how it works for you…

AutoFill with a Custom List in Excel

Create your Own Lists to Work with AutoFill

You may already use some of Excel’s AutoFill capabilities to complete names of months, days and years and/or to copy formulas, so you know it is an amazing time saver. Before we explore creating your own custom lists, here are a few tricks to tame the AutoFill feature:

Excel just needs to see a pattern to fill out the remaining cells. Common sequences only require one entry, such as Monday or Friday, to have the following days of the week automatically fill as you drag the icon down or across. (The Fill handle is on the bottom-right corner of the cell border – a small, black plus sign). The same is true of months or quarters. Excel automatically inserts the next entry and repeats the pattern if you continue to drag past the ending entry.

Trick: If you have data in the cells to the left of the column where you want to use the Fill handle, just double-click on the Fill symbol in the cell that you want copied, and results will fill in down through that number of rows.

Sometimes, AutoFill hiccups when you ask it to repeat a pattern, as in a numbering sequence. For instance, if you type a “1” in a cell and try to AutoFill, you will get only 1’s in the copied cells. You must put in a second number, select both cells, and then AutoFill for Excel to get the pattern. You can enter “1” in a cell and then “2” in a cell below or to the right, and you are off and running. This also works for step-numbering, i.e., enter “1” in first cell and then “5” in second cell, select both and AutoFill. (Same is true for years).

Trick: Save yourself some typing and mouse action:

  • Enter the first number
  • Hold down CTRL key, point at Fill Handle and drag down (or across)
  • Presto, you have sequential numbers (or years). For step-numbering, you still have to type and select at least two entries.

Define your own series that AutoFill can use:

You can enter any list of entries in an Excel worksheet, select the cells and drag down or across and that pattern will be repeated but if the series is one that you want to use in other worksheets or workbooks, create your own custom list:

  • Click File tab on the ribbon and click Options at the bottom of the category list.
  • Click Advanced and then scroll down near the bottom to the General area.

  • Click the button Edit Custom Lists… Excel displays the Custom Lists dialog box.

  • Select NEW LIST in the Custom Lists list.
  • In the List Entries box, start typing the items in your fill series, in the order they should appear. This could be products or department names or list of employees in alphabetical order. Press Enter after each entry.
  • When finished click the Add button.
  • Click OK to close the dialog box.
  • Click OK to close the Excel Options dialog box.

Your custom list is now set up for AutoFill. Just type an entry from that list that you want to start with, select the cell, and then drag the Fill handle. Excel fills the selected cells with the items from your custom list in the same order created.

Create as many custom lists as you like and you now have your own personal quick entries!

The Magic of Excel Tables


Table Benefits

This terrific Excel feature does many things automatically including formatting, formulas and much more. It is very easy to convert worksheet data to a table and convert back to a worksheet range with one mouse click, if needed. (Note, prior to the 2007 version, Tables were called Lists). 

Here’s some treasures you get by Inserting a table:

  • Creates a sophisticated worksheet in a flash. Inserting a table auto formats your data with the built-in style and applies filtering to each column for easy data analysis.
  • Auto selects all the data for the table range. (Make sure you have column headings and don’t have blank rows or columns in your data. Insert a blank row if you don’t want all data in the table).
  • Instant access to a Total Row function where columns can be summed, averaged, counted and more.
  • Insert Table Rows and not affect data cell referencing in columns outside of the table.
  • Easy to select entire data or column or row no matter how large the table.
  • You can name a table and use it in a formula.
  • Change the table style with one mouse click. Live Preview displays how your table would look as you point at each style.

Create a Table in a Flash

You have checked the worksheet and removed any unwanted blank columns and rows:

  • Click anywhere in your data
  • Click the Insert tab on the Ribbon
  • Click the Table icon in the Tables group (Excel will display the Create Table dialog box and auto insert the cell range but be sure there is a checkmark in My Table has headers)

Presto! Excel has applied its default Table format and inserted filters for each column.

When you really want to impress or in a hurry, just click anywhere in your data and press CTRL T to auto insert your table!

Select the Table

Tables make it a snap to select all the data with or without the column headers:

  • Point your mouse to the very upper left of the very first table cell (column header).
  • When mouse pointer changes to a small, black down-angled arrow, single click for data only, or double-click for entire table. (If you double-clicked too slowly and only highlighted data, just single click and now column headers are included).

Customize the Table

Add a column to the table or click below the last row and enter data, and the table is automatically expanded along with the formatting to include the new cells.

Add the Total Row feature. Click in any cell in the table and then, on the Ribbon, under the Table Tools / Design tab in the Table Style Options group, click in the Total Row box to automatically add a Total Row and sum to bottom of the table. Click in any cell in that new row to display a drop down arrow and choose a function, i.e., average, count, etc.

Table Restrictions

A couple of things to be aware of in the table:

  • You cannot create Groups and Outlining within a table. The SUBTOTAL function that is used at the bottom of each column allows selection of function formulas such as SUM, AVERAGE, COUNT, etc., that apply to the entire column.
  • You cannot share a spreadsheet that contains a table.

Convert a Table Back to a Range

In a hurry to share or need to group your data? The good news is you can use the one click method to convert to a data range:

  • The Design contextual tab for the Table is displayed on the Ribbon.
  • Click Convert to Range in the Tools group. (Excel asks if you really mean it).
  • Click Yes, and you are back to the data range but the table formatting style and the column filtering is still applied. This can be handy because it still has those table benefits but you can now group and outline and/or share the worksheet.

Remove Table Formatting

If you want to be back to Square 1 so the table formatting and filters are completely removed, you have  some choices depending on whether you apply before or after Convert to Range, and if you want to retain your font and numerical formatting.

After converting table back to a range: The table style and filters are still applied.

  • Ensure all relevant data is selected.
  • Click the Home tab, and then click the Cell Styles arrow in the Styles group, and choose None.
  • Another option is to click the Clear arrow in the Editing group and choose Clear Formats.

Be aware that both these methods remove the table formatting style but you may have to reformat font and numerical formatting.

Want to have all the formatting back to its state before you inserted the table? Apply these steps to remove all formatting before you Convert to Range.

Before converting table back to range:

  • In the Design tab on Table Tools, click the More drop down arrow button in Table Styles group.
  • Choose the first icon under Light which is None.
  • Click in the Filter button icon in the Table Styles Options group to remove the filtering icons from the columns.
  • Click Convert to Range in the Tools group and confirm.

You now have your spreadsheet back just as you left it. Experiment with tables. I think they will save you time and frustration, especially in those humongous worksheets!







Quick Navigation in Excel Worksheets

Go There in a Flash in Excel

You inherited the biggest spreadsheet on the planet and have to scroll and troll to ranges miles away from your current screen! Don’t despair, Excel has several tools to get you there quickly…

The Go To Dialog Box

You can jump to any area of your worksheet with this handy command. Using the Ribbon, Home tab, Editing group, Find & Select drop down arrow, and select Go To… Just type in a cell reference, click OK or press ENTER, and you are there!

OK, that might beat scrolling but not by much, so here’s the corresponding shortcut:

Press CTRL G or F5 function key to auto display the Go To Dialog Box and it is ready for your entry. It also remembers your previous cell location(s).

The Name Box

Want the quick mouse navigation trick? The Name Box is your ticket! Just click in the box and type the cell reference (such as T44456); press ENTER and you are there. (Unfortunately, there is no keyboard shortcut for the actual Name Box but you could use F5 to display the Go To box, type the cell reference and press ENTER).

keyboard angled 2 x 3
Where did I put that?

Range Names

The amazing Name Box is multi-talented. We saw we can highlight large ranges of cells and also jump to a faraway cell location just by typing the cell reference(s) in the Name Box. But what if you are short on sleep and can’t remember the cell reference(s)? No problem. There is a reason it is called the “Name Box”. All you have to do is find that cell once, select it and give it a name that makes sense to you, like Sales or Profit, etc.


  • Navigate to desired location
  • Click on desired cell (or range of cells)
  • Click in the Name Box and type a name, i.e., Sales
  • Press ENTER

To return to that location any time, just click the drop-down arrow on the Name Box and select the name you gave it, and you are magically transported there!

Important things to know when naming a cell:

  • Range Names must start with a letter but can contain numbers.
  • You can use more than one word to name a range but it cannot contain spaces.
  • Capitalize the separate words, like TotalSales, or the underscore can be used to represent the space, i.e., Total_Sales.

Range Names are ABSOLUTE by default, meaning the name will always refer to the cell even if the content is moved. And, even more impressive, Range Names can also be used in formulas instead of cell references. That Excel is one smart cookie!

The New Start Screens

2013 Office applications sport a new color-coded start screen:

  • blue for Word,
  • green for Excel
  • orange for PowerPoint
  • green for Publisher
  • burgundy for Access

They all look and behave the same way as this example for Word. Launching the program displays a list of recent documents. A blank document is the default option or instead you can select a template, search online for templates by clicking the Category links or typing key words in the Search Box.

Click Open Other Documents to search for a document on your computer or in a OneDrive folder. The top right of the screen shows details of the OneDrive account that you are currently logged in to use and you can Switch User or access Account Settings with the drop down arrow next to the login name. This is accessible in the same area in all your Office programs, and inside of each of your files.


Start screens help new users find their way around more easily, and experienced users may like having all of their options in one place at startup but not everyone is doing the Snoopy dance here. Turning off the Start Screen will display a blank document when you open the program (just like the old days)!

How to turn off the Start Screen

Word is open:

  1. Click File tab, then Options at the bottom of the category list on the left
  2. The General tab will display
  3. Scroll down to the Start up options section
  4. Remove the check mark from Show the Start screen when this application starts
  5. Click OK and you are good to go.

Test by closing Word and re-opening. The blank document awaits!

Restore Direct Response to Open and Save As

Several 2013 programs display the Backstage when you open or save a file. If you want to bypass it for direct access to the Open and Save As dialog boxes, you’ll be glad to know you can get that control back also. (This applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher).

  1. Back to File tab, Options
  2. Click the Save category at left
  3. Click in the checkbox so that the Backstage does not display
  4. Click OK

Test your Open or Save As commands and you have instant dialog box.

Make this process even faster

Press F12 function key for instant Save As (all Office programs except Publisher)

Use CTRL O for Open (all Windows programs)

If this was helpful to you, please leave a comment!