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  • Writer's pictureP. Seely

You’re Wasting Money, Time, and Resources

Discussing the Numbers

Ask yourself, “Does it matter that I don’t use Microsoft Excel as efficiently as I should?” I recently presented to a group of professionals that were from different industries and different career levels within their respective companies on the topic of Microsoft Excel. One of the topics many people struggle with is formulas and functions. Likewise, many people also struggle with math; i.e., the order of operations.

Interestingly, an attendee recently asked me if the following formula makes any difference with Excel:

=sum(A1+A2) versus =A1+A2

At first glance, you may already understand that Microsoft Excel will solve both formulas by substituting the variable values with the cell references that have been made. The real difference is not normally seen by those who lack training in other areas of technology because most people don’t spend the time examining and comparing file sizes when changes have been made. The file size of this one Excel Workbook would be completely different based on which formula was used. For example, when we use the first formula: =sum(A1+A2) the Excel file size is 8.07 KB. When we compare the second formula: =A1+A2 the Excel file size is 8.04 KB. A difference of 30.72 bytes. As most would agree, this is an insignificant amount when one formula is used. However, this difference grows exponentially larger when we begin to use this first formatted formula multiple times within the same workbook or worksheet.

Let’s examine how this seemingly small amount of inefficiency causes other challenges throughout our daily routine:

Sara, is an office worker who works on budgets and other areas of Accounting. She has some experience with Excel but has never taken any formal classes; she is largely self-taught, watches an occasional YouTube video when she needs help, and sometimes asks her co-workers when there is something a little more difficult that she doesn’t understand.

Some of Sara’s Excel Workbook’s have many Worksheet’s. Each worksheet has a row number range from 1 to 1,048,576 (1,048,576 rows) and column labels run from “A” to “XFD” for a total of 16,384 columns. This means that there are 17,179,869,184 cells in each worksheet. It would be highly unlikely that every single cell contained a formula so let’s keep things real-world.

Sara created a worksheet with no values in the first two rows but knew that she needed a calculated field. She entered the first formula; =sum(A1+A2) in cell A3 and copied it for 500 columns. Examining the file size, we can see that the file size is now 13.1 KB with no other values entered other than the formula. When we compare the file size using the simplified formula; =A1+A2, we see that the file size is 10.9 KB. This simple change resulting in a file size that is approximately 20% smaller.

Sara continues to enter her formula’s in ways that are not as efficient. A co-worker named John, asks Sara to send the file to him via email. Email servers rely on data networks to send and receive data. Another co-worker, Kim, is in the field and asks Sara to upload the file to a shared drive location. Web servers also rely on data networks to send and receive data. In both scenarios, data files would be first transmitted using the physical layer, i.e., cabling and processed through a network layer, i.e., router both of which are impacted by the data packet size.

When we use a simple program like Microsoft Excel, the program makes it easy to get started because it will accept values that are entered and interprets those values to help the end user get their work done. Excel does not care how large the file size is. The file size however can impact how we do our work. For John, the email server may not be able to handle large file sizes. In other words, there may be limitations to the file size. Also, Kim will need access to a network resource like OneDrive. For Kim, she will rely on networks to download or upload the file. These same networks are impacted by data packet size as transmissions take longer. Also, Sara has a workstation that has limited resources; i.e., CPU, RAM, etc. The CPU takes longer to process longer calculations, more RAM is used to keep larger files in memory, even her hard-drive needs more storage space for the large file.


The larger the file the longer it takes to transmit, store, retrieve, open, and save. This all translates into time. As a business owner, managing costs is critically important. As an IT professional, keeping the network running efficiently, managing back-ups, servers, and monitoring quality of service are all examples that are tied to some performance metric and measured even more by customer satisfaction; both internally and externally.

One of the largest expense categories that all organizations face is payroll liabilities. When considering where to cut expenses maybe we should consider training employees. That does seem like an oxymoron as we create an expense with new training classes. However, when you have staff that isn’t as efficient as they should be, doesn’t that cost your organization in ways that may not be as apparent as noticing higher payroll expenses? The real question is, what don’t you know about your business? How much is that costing you?

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