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  • Megan Johanson

Surprising Ways I've Used Excel: Part 1


I use Excel for nearly all the planning and organizing I do. In fact, I recently went through the last few years of Excel files on my computer and found 35 different ways I’ve used Excel. Most of them do not even involve analysis or visualization.

Excel is a great place to sort out your thoughts, organize lists, and record things you want to have easy access to. I hope you get some new ideas about how you can utilize Excel from this list.

The first 10 ways to use Excel are related to work and household management.

Stay tuned for additional posts with the remainder of the list.

Work/Project Management

1. Data Analysis

Most of my work and nearly all of my blog posts involve using Excel to analyze data, whether it is simple descriptive statistics or t-tests and correlations. Below is a pivot table analysis I did for my blog post on all the books I read in 2019.

Pivot table of type of books I read broken down into fiction and nonfiction.

2. Data Visualization

Once I analyze data, I almost always use Excel to create a visualization, to make the data easier to understand. Here are some examples of me trying out different chart types to depict an academic achievement gap.

Small multiples bar charts depicting student achievement data by race/ethnicity.

3. Project Management-Gantt Chart

With complex projects that will span several weeks, it can be helpful to create a Gantt chart. Gantt charts break down projects into tasks and sub-tasks. You get a big picture view of the project over time, and you have the ability to track ownership of and percent completion for every task.

There are free template options online, and if you are interested in using one, I recommend looking there first. Building a Gantt chart from scratch can involve pretty complex formulas and isn't really necessary with the free resources that exist online.

Gantt chart for project management.

4. Job Applications

When I was applying for jobs several years ago, I tracked the applications I was submitting. Organizing the required documents and deadlines in this way really helped me stay on track of what needed to be prioritized.

Table listing jobs I applied for, along with the organization name, required materials, and due date.

5. Organizations of Interest for Job Hunting

A complimentary table I used in my job search comprised a list of organizations that I was interested in working at, direct links to their job postings pages, and contact information if I knew someone at the organization. I also used this table to help coordinate informational interview requests, meetings, and thank you notes.

Table of organizations I am interested in working at, which I compiled while job hunting.

Household Management

6. Household Maintenance Tracker

When I bought my first house, I quickly became overwhelmed at the amount of tasks I needed to stay on top of to keep it in good condition. So, I collected information from several websites about what maintenance tasks were important and divided the tasks into four tables, one for each season. I use this list to divide and complete the work over the course of each season.

Household maintenance task list for the fall.

7. Budget Tracker

Several years ago, I put together a budget tracker/savings projection table. I grouped my typical expenses into categories and entered the average cost for each expense into the red cells. I also used formulas to carry over any remaining amount at the end of the month to the “Carry-Over” row for the next month. Usually, I manually increase my expenses for the months around the holidays and any big travel. With this set-up, I can look a year ahead and see if I’ll hit my savings goal. I can also scan the bottom of the table to see if I’m going to be negative in any upcoming month and adjust my spending/saving accordingly.

I don’t look at or adjust the data every month to reflect my real spending and savings, but when approaching a big purchase or event I will go in and update the numbers for the current month to make the projected future months more accurate.

Budget tracker table with cagtegories for bills, student loan, investments, and savings.

8. Pantry Inventory

As I was preparing to have my baby, I researched ways to make the first few months of parenthood easier. One suggestion was to stock up on your pantry items and cooking basics so you wouldn’t have to remember to repurchase them for several months, and also so you’d have items on hand to make some basic meals without any planning. So, I surveyed my cabinets and my extra basement storage. I recorded what I had and repurchased what was missing or low. This worked out really well for the newborn baby period, but I have not consistently updated and maintained this list.

Table of items in my pantry and the amounts of each.

9. Chore List

As my husband and I prepared for marriage, we decided to identify and agree on a fair strategy for all chores we’d need to complete. Most tasks we decided to alternate or share responsibility, but there were definitely some that one of us just hates doing (me-taking out the garbage) or doesn’t see the value in (husband-cleaning windows). For those items, we decided on sole responsibility of parallel tasks that we were both happy with.

I will say that this task was good at helping everyone in the household get perspective on all the tiny things that keep a house running, like refilling handsoap, even if they never really paid attention to it because it magically never ran out.

Chore list consisting of tasks, who is responsible, and how frequently they should occur.

10. Meal Prep

This was another pre-baby task. I wanted to make freezer meals and snacks to have on hand during my maternity leave. I found several recipes I was interested in, and realized it would be easier to purchase everything at once and do a big meal prep over a few days.

Since a lot of the recipes needed the same ingredients, I wanted to calculate how much of each ingredient I would need. I set up this table by going through the recipes one at a time, adding ingredients to the left column as they came up, and calculating the total amounts needed for each recipe in columns on the right side of this table. If you are ever batch cooking or meal prepping, I recommend this strategy for making sure you aren’t left without vanilla for your muffins.

Meal prep table with ingredients down the left-hand side. Each column contains all the ingredients for one recipe.

Have you ever used Excel for job searching or household tasks?


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