What do NFL quarterbacks and Excel users have in common?

It’s football season, and this year I am absolutely obsessed.

When I say obsessed, I mean that I am watching the games live, re-watching them later, watching the shows and documentaries on NFL network, listening to podcasts about the NFL, and you can’t really have a conversation with me without getting pulled into some football talk. So when you are obsessed like this and filling up your head with everything possible about one subject, you start to hear the same commentary about the games and the players over and over again. And this year I’ve been hearing about two themes in football that are super well-aligned to technology and Excel: Time and Vision.

Quarterbacks trying to move the ball down the field have very little time to think and make decisions. Most football plays have about 25 seconds to set up and then once the play starts, most end after about 10 seconds. In those 35 seconds, quarterbacks need to review how the defense on the other team is set up to attack, possibly adjust their own play based on that, get their players in the right places, know how much time is on the play clock. Once the ball is snapped, they need to watch their receivers running all around the field, keep an eye on those defensive players from the other team and the players on his own team trying to protect him, and do all of that while blocking out the sight of thousands and thousands of fans screaming for or against his success. To be successful, quarterbacks need to have a keen sense of time and a wide field of vision.

Time and vision - two things that are also incredibly important for learning and using any technology, and especially Excel.

Even though you may technically have more than 35 seconds to set up and run your play in Excel, it doesn’t always feel like it is worth doing any more than that. How does it feel after struggling with technology for about, say, 15 seconds, or 15 minutes? It is frustrating and annoying, and everything that keeps coming after that can seem like a total waste of time. And I know that your job isn’t to be the quarterback of Excel - you are teaching, or planning, or selling, or volunteering, or managing, or whatever your real job is to do. So you can only spend so much time in Excel when you’ve got other important work to be doing. In the time that you do have, you are trying to keep a lot in your field of vision. Just think about a typical blank Excel document - you’ve got hundreds of rows and columns, thousands of cells, buttons everywhere, and not to mention all the information that is sitting behind the scenes that you are trying to keep in your vision. In Excel, there is always more than one way to do everything and there are unending options for how to format your information to make it look attractive - That is a lot to keep in mind and trying to envision for whatever you are doing with your data and technology.

Quarterbacks are paid millions of dollars to get as good as they are - but what about us regular people trying to get good at Excel? Here are a few tricks of the trade that can help you up your game:

  • Use keyboard shortcuts. Just like quarterbacks have to throw the same pass over and over and over again to perfect it, using keyboard shortcuts can take some practice and repetition. It might feel hard to use them at first when you are just getting used to them, but you will see exponential results. The more you use them, the more natural and second-nature they become, and you will see exactly how much time they will save you. There are dozens of good shortcuts, but start out with your basic navigation. Ctrl+arrow keys on a PC and Command+arrow keys on a Mac. Try them out, see how they feel, and if you catch yourself reaching for your mouse or touchpad to do any scrolling, stop yourself and use your keyboard instead. The more you do it, the better it will feel.

  • Separate your data. There are times when you want to put a lot of things in just one little Excel cell, and times when you really don’t want to do that. For the most part when you are organizing your information before presenting it, you want to make sure you’ve got only one concise piece of information in a single cell - and every cell in that same column should also keep it small. A key example of this is that you don’t want to mix words and numbers - that makes Excel get a little headache and complain when you try later to search, sort, or filter for something specific. So you don’t really want this:

    Nov 13 - webinar
    Nov 18 - class
    Dec 1 - Study group

  • Instead, you want:
    Date Category
    11/13/2017 Webinar
    11/18/2017 Class
    12/1/2017 Study group

  • When presenting information, ditch the gridlines. Football and Excel both have really important gridlines that help you see where everything is in your data. But sometimes they can get overwhelming and messy. It would be hard to erase the lines on a football field for a clearer view, but in Excel you can easily ditch your gridlines, and use borders around your presentations instead. Just head over to the View tab, and uncheck the Gridlines options:

Want to up your game even more? Need more of these tips and tricks? Let’s get some time on the calendar to chat about your Excel needs! Contact me about individual trainings, team trainings, custom Excel/Google Sheets projects, or anything else with Excel/Google Sheets.