5 Second Excel Rule: a total stranger can see your spreadsheet and know where it goes within 5 seconds. With a printed spreadsheet in hand, you should be able to open the computer file in 5 seconds. In 5 seconds of opening the computer file, you should know the latest status of that project.
- Title. Make sure you title tells the who, when, and what of the spreadsheet’s purpose. If the title only appears front center of page 1, then have it mentioned in the header of subsequent pages.
- Readability. Print columns and row headers on multiple page reports.
- File Name. Include the file name in your headers or footers. List a file path or a department name if needed.
- Date and Time. Include the date and time in your footer to print the date and time when a page is printed. Sometimes I print 5 final copies in 10 minutes and tweak each. This helps me quickly find the final, final version for distribution. It’s easier than distributing the wrong final version and having to fix mistakes after the fact.
- A1 Comment. On complex collaboration projects, insert a comment in cell A1, a virtual sticky note of the spreadsheet’s status. If a copy is sent to a client, note the date, time, and delivery method. When a revised version is distributed, I edit the comment to include that. Some spreadsheet projects take weeks or months to complete. By using the A1 Comment to keep updates, we can quickly see project status, finding it on the computer before we could retrieve a hard copy file folder and find a printed spreadsheet with a real stickly note on it.
Anyone can make a convoluted spreadsheet. It takes a savvy number cruncher to build one that is easy to read. These steps will help that and also make sure your spreadsheet is only 5 seconds away.