Tag Archives: AutoFill

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?

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!