Time is of the essence!

I spent most of yesterday at board retreat with my synagogue and one moment that really struck me was when we listed “time abundance” and “time scarcity” as pros AND cons of our meeting.  Pssst – we use this debrief model and it’s great!

As changemakers, time is one of our most precious resources – and the urgency of our political moment only makes this more dramatic!

Today I wanted to focus on time-saving skills and tricks that will supercharge your spreadsheet powers and save you some precious moments – that you can use for organizing, resting, or reading up on letters to the toothfairy.  Modifying Excel’s “default settings” can get you well on your way to a spreadsheet that works for you, instead of the other way around.

Defaulting on Excel


As soon as you open up a new workbook in Microsoft Excel, you’re accepting that a bunch of settings have already been selected for you.  The font, the number of tabs, whether or not formulas “auto populate” (and much, much more!) are all pre-determined.  Defaults aren’t a *pun*ishment (like, if you default on a loan repayment), but sometimes they feel that way if they don’t make our user experience easier and more streamlined!

For example, I almost ALWAYS want to use “text wrapping” (aka making sentences continue on new line within a cell, instead of going on and on forever across the screen)  – but the default setting is “no text wrapping.”  Or… when you “Save As” your document, it automatically goes to your Documents folder – maybe you want your ‘default location’ to be your Desktop, or a custom folder that makes more sense to you!  Instead of changing the location every time, wouldn’t it be great if Excel had that already filled in, and you could just tweak it as necessary?  If you find yourself always changing the same settings, you might want to update your defaults!

“Setting” the stage

“Ok, Spreadsheet Whisperer, but where do I do that?  And how do I even know what I’m going to want?” says the skeptic.  Don’t worry, I have some suggestions!

The first step is to see what’s out there.  Click the “File” button in your top toolbar and hit the “Options” button on the bottom, left.  This will open a new dialogue box (screenshots below!) with PLENTY of settings.  Today I experimented with “color scheme” and turned it Black (looks very sleek!).  You can change the number of “sheets” that open in your book (most of the time I only need 1, and when I need more, I usually end up adding 6 or more, so it turns out 3 is not a very useful standard for me.  Toggle around in the dialogue box adjusting your default settings.  Have fun! You can always change back.


Tempting templates

Similar to setting up “letter head,” you can create way more advanced default settings by making a bunch of changes and saving your document as a Template.  This way, every time you open it, you will use that template to start your spreadsheet.  This is a more advanced skill, but I encourage you to give it a try.  There are good tips and ideas in #9 and #10 in this article!  Usually Excel templates are used for certain objectives (like a budget, a project management plan or a calendar), but you can just as easily use one for capturing custom formatting and other preferences.

Questioning defaults

Part of why I wanted to write this post is because I hope more changemakers will question their (our!) internal default reactions to data and spreadsheets.  Reactions like revulsion, fear or Impostor Syndrome.

I’m all for the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” but too often, what I actually see is – “this spreadsheet/system isn’t working, in fact, it’s making my life more complicated, but I don’t know how to fix it, so I guess I’m stuck with it forever”  If we treated our changemaking this way, we’d never get anything done!  I shudder when I think of the murals that wouldn’t be painted, the curricula that wouldn’t be developed, the campaigns that wouldn’t be waged.

I’ve never changed a spreadsheet default until I started researching for this post.  But I think this feature can actually be so, so useful!  If you give it a try, will you comment or send me an email?  I’d love to hear about how you’ve created systems that make spreadsheets work for you!


One thought on “default, not your fault!

Leave a Reply