Recently, I was doing some simple planning and “what if” type calculations in a spreadsheet. As most people who read this column know, I don’t use Microsoft Excel particularly often. But there are times when nothing but a spreadsheet will do. Because I don’t use Excel much, I spend a lot of time reading the online help to remember how to use it. While trolling the help files, I found a couple of timesaving tips.
For example, in my spreadsheet, I had to enter the same number into several cells. I could have copied and pasted the number, but I found out there’s an easier way. First you select the cells that should have this number. Now, while the cells are still selected, type your number into one of them. Press Ctrl+Enter and the number magically appears in all the cells you have selected. Note that the cells don’t have to be a contiguous range either. You can select cells that aren’t next to each other. To do that, instead of clicking and dragging to select a range, hold down the Ctrl key and click the cells you want to select.
In my baby spreadsheet, I also needed to enter a list of business names. Later on, I decided I wanted to put numbers in the column next to my list of names. Rather than typing in the information in each cell, I used Excel’s ability to automatically fill in a series of numbers. To do this, you type the number you want in the first cell of the range you want to fill (in this case, I typed a 1). Then enter a value in the next cell so Excel can figure out the pattern (in this case, 2). Now, select all the cells in the range you want to fill along with your two cells that have numbers. Now choose Edit|Fill|Series. In the dialog box, you can indicate how you want Excel to fill in your block. This technique also works with dates, so if you had a list of months you could start with January 2006 and Excel could figure out the rest of the year for you.
Finally, here’s one more little tidbit. As most people know, if you type an equal sign (=), Excel figures you’re going to put in a formula. But what if you really want an equal sign in your spreadsheet? The answer is to type an apostrophe (‘) before you type your equal sign. When you press the Enter key, the apostrophe disappears, but you still have an equal sign in your cell.