waste time with office software

I have noticed an underlying assumption underpinning most of the Office software related posts in Tech News, not least those that I have contributed. The assumption is that we always want to use Office software to accomplish things as quickly and efficiently as possible. This might not actually be the case. There might well be times when we need to stretch the available work out to fit the amount of time that needs filling. So, in a rare departure from the prevailing assumption, in this post we will examine a few ways in which we can make simple document, presentation and spreadsheet tasks occupy vastly more time than is actually necessary.

When considering Microsoft Word, there is one overwhelmingly successful way to make the creation of almost any document take much longer. By avoiding the use of Word Styles, you can spend hours applying formatting, attribute by attribute, rather than allowing Word Styles to do it for you either automatically or with a single mouse click. Even better, by not using Word Styles you can ignore all the automatic paragraph pagination options allowing you to spend many happy minutes making sure that paragraphs aren't split across the page and headings don't end up on a different page from the body text to which they refer. Of course, if you need to work with numbered headings, you can spend whole days trying to sort out the numbering for a single document just by avoiding the use of Word Styles linked to outline numbering levels.

Moving on to Excel, once again simply avoiding a basic technique can greatly elongate any spreadsheet project. With Excel there is an added advantage. As well as the time spent creating a spreadsheet, there is considerable scope for using up even more time in checking and auditing someone else’s spreadsheet. Avoiding the use of dollar signs to fix elements of cell references wins on both counts. Rather than creating a single formula and copying it to hundreds of other cells in seconds, leaving out the dollar signs means that each of those hundreds of cells will need to have their formula entered manually. As well as extending the time involved in creating the formulae by a factor of a hundred or so, the room for error is similarly multiplied. When it comes to the checking and auditing process, rather than needing to check a single formula and then ensure it has been copied correctly to all the other cells, each cell needs to be checked individually.

More recently, the Power Query feature allows any Excel user to completely automate a whole series of processes. Ignoring Power Query and sticking with a traditional cell-based approach can allow you to spend several days, month after month, carrying out processes manually instead of allowing Power Query to automate them for you.

We’ll finish with PowerPoint. The particular advantages of avoiding our chosen feature in PowerPoint were highlighted when a delegate on a course I was presenting started banging their head rhythmically on their laptop keyboard. Apparently, they had just spent almost all of the previous day precisely placing their firm’s logo in exactly the same place on each slide of a very extensive presentation. Had they used the Master Slide feature in PowerPoint they would have been left with hours of time to while away to get them through to close of play. Some would say that using PowerPoint at all is an effective way to waste time for both the presenter and the audience.

I won’t bother to cover anything specific to Outlook since pretty much any use of email expands to fill every available moment.

I’m lucky enough to be paid to deliver lectures and training course on the use of Office software so it’s very much a case of MRDA with regard to the following suggestion. If the need to fill swathes of otherwise empty time applies to a whole team, or even an entire organisation, then there is a general approach that far outweighs any other. Although attending training courses on how to use Office software might seem like a good way to use up a few days, assuming instead that either the education system or previous employers have taught your colleagues all that they need to know about using Office software is a supremely effective way of making work take longer. Left to their own devices and experiences people can spend hour upon hour using cumbersome self-taught methods and techniques in almost any application to accomplish what the correct technique would have managed in seconds.

Resources

Training

ICAEW Academy of Professional Development

Online training free to Tech Faculty and Excel Community members

Word

I must not… Lines for Word users

Microsoft Word – 10 reasons why styles are indispensable 1

Word - Styles, the only way to cope with complicated numbering without throwing your computer through a window in frustration (Excel community members)

Excel

Tip of the Week #11 - Formulas with fixed references (Excel community members)

Excel Tip of the Week #74 - Revisiting formulas with fixed references (Excel community members)

Excel Tip of the Week #200 - Fixed references redux (Excel community members)

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