It is impossible for me to remember work before Excel. Okay, there for about a minute there was Lotus 123, but it was never like Excel. A day does not go by that I don’t plug in data, numbers, a formula or two, a list to be alphabetized or sorted by zip code. Excel is such a rational partner, and so sensible, so truthful, informative, and so easy to work with. Excel makes things fast and accurate, and if you make a mistake, it tells you right away. If you do one thing in the interest of your career this week, begin to learn how to navigate an Excel spreadsheet.
Here are ten things Excel can do for your career and actually, for your life, assuming you learn to use it properly, enthusiastically, and often:
1. It will help you address and understand your financial reality. No more back-of-your-notebook amounts and number of the check you just wrote to Old Navy, or ATM receipts stuffed in your wallet with the cash. Your budget, expenditures, deposits, and the list of what you spent on whatever you spent it on is all yours. Excel helps you figure out where all your cash is going.
2. It will help you manage your contacts and your network connections. Throughout your life and career, you will meet a lot of people; many will become your friends, some your good friends. The most successful among us manage those friendships and connections by organizing information and staying in touch with new and old friends. Birthdays? Addresses? Mailing list? Who lives in Atlanta and might know someone at Coca Cola or Emory University? As the list grows, so does the need to organize it all. Start now, before the list shrinks from neglect.
3. It will help you with your math. Your algebra. Your accounting. Your statistics. You can create a formula and try out different scenarios with different numbers. How much money will that fundraiser raise? Well that depends on how many people buy tickets, what the tickets cost, and how much you spend on food and drink.
4. It will help you impress and do cool stuff for your coworkers, clients, management, and study group. Look. Numbers. Fast. It will help you get picked for project teams, initiatives and other fun and important things because you are the one who can: Do. Numbers. Fast.
5. It will help you make decisions. There is nothing like a pivot table for analyzing data; this software can help estimate probability, cause and effect, and the rate of error or accuracy. You can drop whole columns of numbers into a spreadsheet and find the ones that wouldn’t stand out to the human eye.
6. It will help you appreciate how much of life and career involves quantifying opportunity before leaping on what looks like a good one. If you have ever bought a house to fix up and flip, ever took a job that looked great but involved a “slight” pay cut, or decided to make jewelry for sale in your Etsy store, you know exactly what I mean.
7. It will help you hold up your end of the conversation about the family budget, with confidence, because you will know what you spent on groceries, rent, shoes, iTunes, and drinks after work. And you will know what everyone else spent, too.
8. It will lead you to new conversations about results, not just about ideas that could lead to them. It will help you plan for better results, more realistic time frames in which things might be achieved. It will lead you to understand and help support the members of your organization who manage the money and the numbers as their profession.
9. It will help you make your ideas and plans real enough to touch. And real enough to touch the hearts and wallets of those who invest in quantifiable business plans.
10. It will help you save enough money to do what you want to do in this life. The magic is in the little things and the little things are what get lost when you are only thinking in big wide swaths of ideas. Money and things that roll around in your head come in two dimensions only: Too Much and Not Enough. Once they are on a spreadsheet you can easily see how today’s wish can become tomorrow’s reality one cell, one formula, one worksheet, or one accounting period at a time.
There is an eleventh thing Excel can help you with: Communication. Cells, labels, numbers, and data turned into informational charts and graphs are much easier for many people to grasp and understand, Not everyone listens or converts numbers to actions, but a decent pie chart can charm the daylights out of someone with a visualizer or a visual learner, which is what many many people on the planet relate to best.
As with most things, you get out of this tool what you put into it. Take the time to focus, learn, and practice. Once you get the gist, and once you get the tutorial and workbooks, you still have to spend time using and expanding your use of the software. There will come a day when you will be asked in an interview with a prospective employer if you have spreadsheet skills or if you have mastered Excel. If you haven’t, this is not one of those things you can wing.
The answer should be, “Of course.”