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Resolve to Use Excel Your Way – Part 1

Ed. note: we really like David, the Excel guy, and we hope you will, too. He does webinars over on AWeb that we hope you will find useful but if not, he might drop some Excel wisdom around here for you guys if you treat him right. Please give him a proper GC welcome (and by "proper" I mean BE NICE, I know you people) ~AG

If you’re like most users, your Excel options are as pristine as the day Excel was installed on your computer. This is akin to buying a car and never adjusting the position of the driver’s seat. Now, I hear that Caleb likes having his knees near his chin when he drives, but hopefully someday he’ll look for that little lever that will let him customize his car just a bit.

Here’s how to find your “seat adjustor” in the desktop versions of Excel:

  • Excel 2010/2013: Choose File, and then Options.
  • Excel 2007: Click the round button in the top-left corner of your screen known as the Office button, and then choose Excel Options.
  • Excel 2003: Really? You’re reading Going Concern and you’re still on Excel 2003? Fair enough. In your case, choose Tools, and then Options.
  • Excel for Mac 2011: Choose Excel, and then Preferences.

Now that you’re here, let’s take a quick look around. Caleb and Adrienne have started me out on a short leash, so I only have space today to discuss a couple of settings, but I’ll be back soon with more:

Number of sheets in new workbook: It’s always chapped me that new workbooks start out with three worksheets. Unused worksheets are a future tax on your time as you’ll have to verify their emptiness when you unearth the spreadsheet again. In the General section (Popular in Excel 2007) change that 3 to 1. Press Shift-F11 anytime you need a new worksheet, or use the onscreen insert buttons in any version of Excel released since the mid-2000s.

Default File Location: Nomads that rarely work in one place for any length of time can skip this setting. For the rest of us, you probably frequently access files on a drive letter that starts with something other than C: in the Save section (General in Excel 2003/2011) set the Default or Preferred File Location to x: where x is the drive letter you use. You can even get more specific, like x:\Cat Lady\Spreadsheets (you’re welcome, Adrienne).

Number of Recent Items: Getting to a folder faster is one thing, but skipping the folder entirely is another. Skip the folder surfing and keep recent spreadsheets just a click away:

  • Excel 2013: The File, Open commands reveal a Recent Workbooks list that contains up to 25 spreadsheets. Take advantage of the scrollable nature of this menu by changing the Show Number of Recent Workbooks to 50. You’ll find this setting under in Display, under the Advanced section.


  • Excel 2010: The File, Recent command offers the same experience as Excel 2013, and is modified in the same fashion.


  • Excel 2007: A click of the Office button reveals a menu that shows the last 17 files that you opened. Bump this to 50 in the same fashion as the later versions of Excel to show as many files as your screen resolution will permit.


  • Excel 2003: Your default number of files is 4, but your General tab lets you increase this to 9. This is but one of many reasons to move to a modern version of Excel.


  • Excel 2011: The menu that appears when you choose File, Open Recent can show up to the last 99 files that you’ve accessed by way of the General section.

Anyone using Excel 2007 or later on a Windows computer can leverage the Recent menu further. Simply click the pushpin adjacent to any frequently used files to prevent the files from eventually scrolling off the menu. Further, Excel 2010 uses should click the checkbox at the bottom of the Recent Menu for Quickly Access This Number of Recent Workbooks. Excel 2013 users need to look in the Advanced section for this setting. Either way, this setting places a handful of recent workbooks on the File menu for even faster retrieval.

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.