Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Guide for Excel Users

The 2015 holiday season is officially upon us here in the United States which means it’s time for my annual gift giving guide. I used to panic every year whenever my spouse, parents, and siblings asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I needed to give them an idea otherwise I’d end up with an ugly sweater or some random gadget I would never use. So to help alleviate some of my stress I started compiling my own holiday gift guide. It’s kind of like the big toy catalog you used to get as a kid, only this is for adults. I’ve made a list of items I think would be very useful or exciting for your fellow Excel users, sorted by different categories. Some of these items I already use on a daily basis and others are things that are on my own personal wish list. Enjoy!


For the first time ever, I am giving a discount on my paperback book, 76 Excel Tips to Improve Your Productivity and Efficiency. For 20% off use discount code: 2F5RYRQC when purchasing directly from CreateSpace here:

Excel 2013 Power Programming with VBA by John Walkenbach. This book covers all the methods and tools you need to know in order to program with Excel.


Another shameless self-plug. For the first time ever, I am giving a discount on my paperback book Coasters 101: An Engineer’s Guide to Roller Coaster Design. Ever wonder how roller coasters are made so you scream your head off but return safely to the station every time? For 25% off, enter discount code: UY8WJQMM when purchasing directly from:

The Martian by Andy Weir. If you only read one (fiction) book this year, The Martian has to be the one. I absolutely love this book (haven’t seen the movie yet). As soon as I finished it the first time, I immediately re-read it – something I’ve never done before.It’s about an astronaut (with a great sense of humor) who gets left behind on a mission to Mars and has to figure out how to survive. If you’re interested in space exploration, problem solving, engineering, chemistry, botany, or disco + 70s TV shows, I highly recommend you read The Martian. Maybe the best book I’ve read in the past five years.

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. If you’re a Star Wars fan like I am you’re probably anxiously awaiting The Force Awakens movie on December 18th. This book will wet your appetite before the movie comes out. The story takes place during the original trilogy but offers a new perspective in which the main characters don’t really know anything about The Force, the Jedi, the Dark Side, etc. which I think is a theme that will carry over into The Force Awakens. The story also ends about a year or two after The Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi and does contain the Battle of Jakku and how at least one of those Star Destroyers ends up smashed on the desert planet. If you’re only going to read one Star Wars related book, this is the one.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. This book contains hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask, like: What if everyone on earth aimed a laser pointer at the moon at the same time? What if you could drain all the water from the oceans? What if all the lightning in the world struck the same place? Very fun and interesting read!


Laser Pointer. This laser pointer always comes in handy when it’s time for a meeting or presentation. Plus, it doubles as a toy to keep your cats entertained.

Chromecast – I actually have used Chromecast at my day job before. I’ve created screen capture videos and uploaded them to YouTube, then I use the very portable Chromecast to display the videos directly on a TV (haven’t used the Amazon equivalent, so not sure if it works the same).

Microsoft Surface 2: There are newer, more powerful Surface tablets available but they're pretty expensive, running around $1000. The Surface 2 is now pretty affordable at around $250 and is still one of the best tablets for Excel and other Microsoft Office products. In fact, it comes with fully functional versions of Excel, Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, and Onenote for free. As far as I know, no other tablet has anything comparable. 32 and 64GB versions are available.

Excel Quick Reference Sheet - Laminated quick reference showing step-by-step instructions and shortcuts for how to use Microsoft Office Excel 2013.


Google Cardboard – Google Cardboard is described as Virtual Reality (VR) on a budget. Gives you a taste of the capabilities of the Oculus Rift at a fraction of the cost. Though be warned it may cause motion sickness if the app you’re looking at doesn’t perfectly track your head movement. It’s fun to assemble and play with.

Dash and Dot – programmable robots. If you’re into programming things like Excel macros and you want to teach your kids the joys of programming then I’ve found the perfect gift for you. These cute robots are designed to help introduce children to the wonderful world of programming. Oh, and they’re fun for adults too! Can’t wait to use this with my son in a few years.


Are you putting any of these items on your holiday wish list? If so, let me know which ones in the comments below. Do have anything you’d like to recommend to me?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

RACI Matrix Template in Excel

The RACI Matrix is a powerful tool to assist in the identification of roles and assigning of cross-functional responsibilities to a project deliverable or activity. The RACI  or RASCI (pronounced ‘race ski’) matrix is a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) to clarify expectations on the level of their participation. To begin using the RACI template, follow these steps:

raci matrix excel template

1. Across the top row, identify who will be the project’s participants.
2. Down the first column, determine the functions, decisions, tasks and activities that will make up the process or project.
3. Simply place an R, A, C, I or any appropriate combination in each of the applicable roles for each activity. Each activity should have at least one individual accountable while there may be shared responsibilities depending on the activity.

What does RACI (or RASCI) stand for?

  • Responsibility = person or role responsible for ensuring that the item is completed
  • Accountable = person or role responsible for actually doing or completing the item 
  • Consulted = person or role whose subject matter expertise is required in order to complete the item
  • Informed = person or role that needs to be kept informed of the status of item completion 
  • Supported = the roles/groups/departments that provide the resources and hence support that task 

Have you ever used a RACI or RASCI matrix at your job or project?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Schedule Meeting Time Template

Having trouble finding the best time to meet with your team? Use this Excel template to find the perfect date or time for your meeting. Here’s how to use the meeting scheduler template: Enter your name in the input field, then use the drop down menu to add a check mark into the time slots you are available. If you’re not available, then leave it blank. When all the required meeting attendees enter their available times, the spreadsheet shows you the first and second best meeting times.

meeting scheduler in excel spreadsheet

One thing this template will demonstrate is how to insert a check mark in Excel. Go to the top tab "Insert" then in click the "Symbol" button on the far right. A dialog box will appear and you need to select "Wingdings" from the drop down list at the top left. Scroll through the symbols until you find the check mark (wingdings: 252). If you copy and paste the check into a new sheet you may see a ü symbol instead. Simply change the font of that cell to wingdings to get the check mark back.

check mark excel

The next thing you’ll see by dissecting this template will show you how to use a check mark in a drop down list. Another function you can examine is how to use conditional formatting to color a cell based on the cell’s value. In this case, we want to color our cell green if it contains a check mark and red if left blank. As you can see, you will use the "ü" symbol in the formula.

There are similar online tools to help you schedule meetings but most require a fee to unlock all the features. Instead you can use and modify this free Excel template. You could add more functionality, like adding a formula to automatically send an email once you’ve picked the meeting time.

Do you think this template will be useful to you?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Excel Quick Tips: Count Unique Values

I’ve got an extremely short but valuable Excel tip for you today: how to count the number of unique values in a range. Sometimes you need to count values in a row or column but not if they repeat. To count only the unique numbers or words in Excel, use the following formulas depending on:

If there are no blank cells:


With or without blank cells:


Replace Range with A1:A7 for example. 

COUNTIF is probably the function you’re most used to that will count based on a given condition. SUMPRODUCT returns the sum of the product in the range.  SUMPRODUCT functions as an array formula, you just don't have to enter it as such. 

To see how this formula works step by step, click on the cell that contains the formula, then go to Formula tab, and click Evaluate Formula and you can cycle through each step in the calculation.

For more, see the index of Excel tips page.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quick Excel Help: Date and Time Formats

I received an email from one of my readers asking a question about date and time formats in Excel and I figured I would share my answer here in case anyone else has the same question.

Question: Hi Nick, I am having trouble with Excel time date formats and was hoping you can help. I have a data field with a date time format and I want to separate this out with date in one column, time in another, & hour of the day  in another. Can you please tell me how to do this?

Answer: There are a number of date and time functions in Excel that should be helpful to you. I’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re looking for but try these formulas out:

In column a: =now()
Column b: =month(a2)&”/”&DAY(A2)&”/”&YEAR(A2)
Column c: =HOUR(A2)
Column d: =minute(A2)
Column e: =Second(A2)
Column F: =TIME(C2,D2,E2)

excel date and time formulas

Do you have any other suggestions for this reader’s question?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Gantt Chart Template Excel 2010

A Gantt chart template is included in my Master Project Management Template file that I give away as a free gift for joining my email list. I have a new and improved version that is a bit more user friendly and simply better to look at.
gantt chart template excel 2010

A Gantt chart is a bar chart that shows the tasks of a project, when each must take place, and how long each will take. As the project progresses, bars are shaded to show which tasks have been completed. People assigned to each task can also be represented. Gantt Charts are also called a Milestone Chart, Project Bar Chart, or Activity Chart.

How to Use the Gantt Chart Template

Follow the steps listed below to use the template spreadsheet:

1. Enter up to 30 tasks in the cells provided.
2. Enter the Start Date for each task and the number of days to complete it.
3. Enter the Percent Complete for each task. This is required, even if 0%.

Watch the video below to see the Gantt Chart Template Excel 2010 in action.

When to Use Gantt Chart

The list below shows the ideal time to use a Gantt chart:
  • When scheduling and monitoring tasks within a project.
  • When communicating plans or status of a project.
  • When the steps of the project or process, their sequence and their duration are known.
  • When it’s not necessary to show which tasks depend on completion of previous tasks.
This chart is very easy to use and can be quite helpful when managing a large project. Download the template by clicking the link below:

How often do you use Gantt Charts? I’d love hear about your experience so please let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

NCAA 2015 College Football Helmet Schedule

It's hard to believe but the 2015 college football season is about to begin in less than two weeks! My Buckeyes are the defending National Champions! I never would have expected that. In fact, I said this after their second game of last season:
Oops. I’m glad I was so wrong. And that’s why I love watching football – it’s unpredictable!

This 2015 college football helmet schedule in Excel includes every team from all ten conferences plus independents. Every game is listed as either home, away, or neutral site (noted at the bottom of each sheet).  A college football helmet schedule spreadsheet may be available on other websites but, to my knowledge, this is the only downloadable Excel version and unlike some of the others is 100% FREE! Download it today using the link below: