How Excel Keyboard Shortcuts Will Make You Mediocre

Rick and Shane were highly respected members of their community. The time was coming for one of them to step up and take over as leader. So, the community elders proposed a challenge that would determine which one of them would.

The town had poor access to water and desperately needed to increase its supply, so the challenge for Rick and Shane was to see who could bring the most water in to the town from a source about 1 mile away. The challenge was to last 6 months.

Shane took the challenge on with enthusiasm; he immediately grabbed a pair of buckets and walked to and from the source several times a day and began filling up special reservoir that was made to measure how much water he was bringing back.

Rick on the other hand went quiet, no one had heard from him in months. Month after month, Rick’s special reservoir was empty as Shane’s flourished. Then days before the challenge was to end, Rick emerged in the town to much excitement. He had spent all that time building a pipeline from the source and once he switched on the water supply, the level of water in his special reservoir reached the same as Shane’s in a matter of hours.

Rick had not only won but it was a complete decimation since he put in the initial effort to build his pipeline and it would supply water 24/7 in an instant.

What Rick had done was to elevate his thinking and that’s what made him deserve to be the new leader of the community.

Now, what’s my rehashing of Robert Kiyosaki’s brilliant fable got to do with Excel?

Well, allow me if you will to discuss one of the hottest Excel topics there is…Keyboard Shortcuts

“I made it my business NOT to learn Keyboard Shortcuts”

I am pretty darn good at Excel, I can solve any problem I need to but one thing I am not good at is Excel Keyboard shortcuts. I know Ctrl + C (Copy), Ctrl + V (Paste) and the most important one on account of being a human being is Ctrl + Z (Undo!).

Not only do I not know any other Shortcuts, I made it my business NOT to learn them. Now, why would I do such a thing?

Well, grab some popcorn for another quick story. A few years ago I worked closely with a management accountant called Sanjay, who would frequently extract data from a SAP finance database, clean it up and do some analysis on it. He was a master of keyboard shortcuts and was lightning fast.

One day Sanj got stuck in to his usual daily extraction, clean up and analysis. He turned to me and asked “how quickly can you do this?” with a certain male competitive arrogance; of course in a humorous way like when two friends are playing Battlefield on the PS4 and teasing each other.

“Send it to me and I can have a try?”. He emails me his Excel workbook, shows me what he’s trying to do then says “just do 20 rows and see how long it takes”. Now, he began to time me and I got stuck in. 2 minutes later I was still working on it…. 5 minutes later, still had not finished….and at 10 minutes he got fed up and stopped timing!

“Dude, supposedly you are an Excel expert but you are slowwww!”

“It takes me less than 2 minutes to do those 20 rows” he bragged.

Now, after about 12 minutes I eventually finished and challenged him. “Let me try one more time, but give me a new extract with 100 rows”.

“100 rows?! That will take you all day! “ He laughed and sent me another extract with 100 rows.

“Ready… go!” He started his timer.

3 seconds later I said “Done!”

“What?!” he said. “Stop being an idiot”, which is a very British thing to say to your friend and it means “What are you talking about?”

He came over to my desk and saw that all 100 rows had been done in 3 seconds; it takes him about 1 minute to cleanse 10 rows and he is super-fast.

How could I possibly do 100 in 3 seconds?!

Easy. Macros. Or more accurately, VBA.

VBA is Visual Basic for Applications and it is all about ‘programming’ Excel to control it and automate a lot of your work, whether it’s Analysis, Report Building or making Excel integrate with other applications.

Instead of doing the work the first time when Sanj sent me the file, I knew my strategy was to write some VBA code and create a macro that was going to automatically do the work. This would be a valuable way to prove a point to a friend that he should be investing his time in learning VBA/Macros.

It is all about controlling Excel automatically. That’s what ALL programming does, it controls things automatically. When you do things automatically, Excel doesn’t operate at the speed a human does; it operates like a machine and does the job in seconds!

The reason I don’t use keyboard shortcuts is because instead of learning keyboard shortcuts and speeding up the time it takes to do repetitive tasks, I decided long ago to invest that time into learning how to AUTOMATE by using Excel VBA (or Macros).

That investment in my time paid off dramatically.

If you do use a lot of keyboard shortcuts it means you are doing repetitive tasks. If you are doing repetitive tasks the best thing you can do is invest in yourself and learn how to automate with VBA and Macros.

Learning keyboard shortcuts is a very tactical approach. Improving your knowledge in that area won’t pay off for you that much in the future; you will reach a ceiling usefulness pretty soon.

On the other hand, learning to automate is like compound interest.

It’s a skill which will pay off for years to come.

As I said to Sanj, “Do you want to spend 30-60 minutes a day just doing this repetitive nonsense? As a qualified accountant wouldn’t your time be better used to add value by analysing the numbers, then presenting useful findings to senior people?”

He got my point and I began to spend some time with him a few times a week, for a few weeks, to teach him VBA/Macros, of which he’s now a master.

Elevate your thinking.

If you keep using Excel Shortcuts and get quicker and quicker, you are going to be a better solider and that’s fine, but ask yourself this.

Do I want to be a better soldier or do I want to be a General?

For me, it’s not even a question. And I hope you are ambitious enough to aim to be a General too.

The industrial revolution was arguably the biggest leap humans made in terms of the economic impact of technology because productivity increased through automation. Similarly, you need to spark your own little ‘industrial revolution’ in your career.

I began to advance in my career when my Excel skills got so good, I was automating my work. This freed up time, now I could have used that time to surf the interwebs or post hilarious Facebook status updates. Instead, I spread my wings a bit more in the companies I worked in, looked for opportunities to provide value to the right people until eventually, the generals in my organisations saw as one of them. I won them over and they promoted me, opened doors for me and groomed me to be among them.

I have put together a very powerful series of FREE lessons which will introduce you to Excel VBA. I teach it MY way which is easy, fun and relevant to working in the real world. Click here to get VBA lessons sent straight to your inbox via email. However, if your skill level is too basic or even intermediate then you can start off by signing up to my more introductory (free) lessons to improve your Excel skills before tackling VBA/Macros.

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