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First 5 things to do when creating a spreadsheet

I always find myself giving people these few tips with their spreadsheets, so I wondered… are there a lot of people who would benefit from them?

So you’re putting together a spreadsheet? You’ve already taken the first step toward organizing your information is a much more useful way that simple text documents.

Determine where the file should be saved

One complaint I hear often from teams is that it’s hard to find needed documents. If your using a cloud-based suite, like Google, this is only made more complicated by the ease of making new documents. One link click and voila — you have a spreadsheet. But the default behavior is to save that in “My Drive,” a folder without share permissions.

Decide on your column headers

Be intentional with the data you are storing in your spreadsheet and stick to it. This is just an initial step — you can easily add columns later on — but it’s best to think about all the possibilities now. I’d rather remove a column I didn’t need then have to go back and populate more data.

  • Status: Assigned, Working, Done

Lock your header row; bold the text

This seems to be a little-known feature but it can be a game-changer for people working with large sheets. You can lock the header row.

Delete all the extra columns

So you’ve decided on eight column headers. That means there are another 18 that are just visual garbage. Google Sheets defaults to 26 columns (a-z). That’s just a default. It’s on you to tell if how many you need.

Delete all the extra rows

How much data are you going to enter? Twenty records at first with more to come? Then you don’t need 10,000 rows — the Google default.

[Optional] Lock your first column

This is especially necessary when dealing with a lot of columns. Have you ever scrolled to the right and lost track of what row you needed to look at? So then you remember “row 53” and you scroll. That’s completely unnecessary.

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Here’s a small basic sample of a spreadsheet that follows these tips. They get much more useful when dealing with more than six rows and five columns!

Stick to it!

This is the beauty of spreadsheets: data that follows a structure. It allows you to work with the data in powerful ways. If you need to add anything that doesn’t fit your structure, create a new sheet/tab and give it a new structure.

Written by

Senior Digital Manager @ONA; Formerly @nwherald, @pewresearch, @fiscalnote. Softball pitcher; journalist; pizza. Grad of @Illinois_Alma.

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