When you get in a car for the first time, you probably have a routine you follow to set all the controls “just the way you like them.” You probably adjust the rearview-mirror so that you can see out the back of the car clearly, you move the seat to the right position so reaching the pedals and the steering wheel feels right, etc. You take all these steps because it makes driving easier once you get started. You don’t want to have to crane your neck like an owl to see what’s happening behind you, you just want to glimpse in the rearview. You should do the same thing with Excel. Check out the settings and make sure they’re “just right” for you. Even if you have been using Excel for a while and have never done this, try it anyway. You’ll probably find that you can be more productive with five minutes of effort.

Settings to Change

Here are the things that I customize in Excel:

  • Uncheck Enable Live Preview. I don’t like Excel to change the row height or make “jarring” changes when I go to change formats.

  • Change Office Theme to white. Personal preference.

  • Disable Enable LinkedIn features. Can’t think of why I would want LinkedIn features in Excel. Disabling this can only make Excel faster.

  • Uncheck Show the Start screen when this application starts. This seems to just slow things down and doesn’t add a lot of value.

  • Uncheck Use table names in formulas. This one may be debatable. Sometimes I do want to create formulas that use table names in Excel, but it seems that Excel never quite gets the formula “right.” It ends up being slightly wrong so that I have to change the formula anyway. YMMV.

  • Uncheck Use GetPivotData functions .... I have NEVER found someone who actually likes this “feature.” If I could only change one setting in Excel, this would probably be it.

  • Uncheck Enable background error checking. I don’t tend to use the error checking in Excel (it never seems to get this right either).

  • Check Don't show the Backstage when opening or saving. I don’t need Excel showing me some fancy screen when I’m trying to open or save a document. Just show the standard dialog.

  • Uncheck After pressing Enter, move selection. This one may take a bit of getting used to, but unless you are doing data entry, I find that I prefer that Excel doesn’t move down after I hit Enter. This way, if I made a mistake when I entered a number or a formula, I can change it right away (no additional keystrokes).

  • Uncheck Allow editing directly in cells. I only want to edit formulas in the formula bar. Otherwise, I think the inline editing tends to be more of a hindrence than a help. You do need to get used to always looking in the formula bar when you go to edit a cell, but for me this is pretty natural at this point.

  • Uncheck Show Paste Options button when content is pasted. I use shortcut keys to paste, so I don’t need a cute little menu to pop up helping me figure out what I want to paste.

  • Add path to At startup, open all files in:. You should create a folder on your computer somewhere that contains any addins or startup files you want to open every time you open Excel. The first file I put in here is my shortcut addin.

Quick Access Toolbar

After changing these settings, I add the following to the “Quick Access Toolbar.” If you are not familiar with this little piece of screen geography, you should get familiar with it. Anything you put on here can be accessed with the shortcut Alt-<Number>, where <Number> is any number greater than 1 (although 1–9 are the only ones I use since typing two numbers seems like too much).

  • (Custom addin not relevant for most people)
  • Set column to default width (macro - F1F9 utilities)
  • Change Data Source ... (PivotTableChangeDataSource). When your cursor is in a PivotTable cell, you can hit Alt-3 to automatically change the data source (e.g., add new rows, remove unused rows that you deleted, etc.).
  • (Custom addin not relevant for most people)
  • Email (FileSendAsAttachment). Alt-5 let’s me automatically email the current document to someone.
  • Change Chart Type. Change from a bar chart to a line chart with Alt-6.
  • Field List (PivotFieldListShowHide). Easily view which fields are shown in a PivotTable.

Some other settings you may want to consider are enabling the PowerPivot addin and mabye showing the Developer Toolbar (if you tend to add buttons or other controls to your documents that trigger VBA).