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When you think of the changes in technology it’s easy to be seduced by the latest shiny new thing. Yet when it comes to handling numbers and data the King and Queen of applications is still Excel. It’s hard to believe the program is more than 30 years’ old.

The Mac version was launched in 1985 – the same year as BT announced it was getting rid of the UK’s famous red telephone boxes, and the same year the UK’s first-ever mobile phone call was made.

Windows gained Excel two years’ later – the same year as the UK saw its first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the same month as T’Pau were topping the UK singles charts with ‘China in Your Hand’.

Excel was born to last the distance.8 Excel Functions Every VA Needs to Know

It helps you create and manage lists, use checklists, track expenses or events, make stuff add up, analyse data and make sense of information with ease.

Excel can work really hard on your behalf. I haven’t counted them all, but I’m told there are more than 500 functions available in the application. And I believe it!

For today, I’m just going to mention 8 functions which you’ll probably want to know about if you don’t already.

1.Paste Special

Copy and paste is one of the simplest and most used functions in Excel.

But in the process, you may find you carry over a format you don’t want or copy a formula over when all you want is a value. And to put that right takes up a bit more of your time.

Enter Paste Special. It allows you to pick up which bits of the copied cell you want to bring over. Neat and precise.

2. Add Multiple Rows

I’ve seen people who add new rows between existing rows, line by line. They clearly are not aware of the “Ctrl, shift, +” shortcut or another little trick for speed.

3. Flash Fill

This Excel function automatically fills your data when it senses a pattern. For example, let’s say you’re entering a series of product numbers, all starting ‘TVA’. You type ‘TVA00001’ in the first cell of a column and for the next cell down you only need to start typing the number… the ‘TVA’ prefix gets added by magic.

4. SUM

This is probably one of the first things you’ll learn to do in Excel – how to add up items in a row or column. But have you discovered the neat shortcut to speed the process?


This is the simple way to get yourself out of a jam. It’s Ctrl Z, of course, to undo mistakes in Excel. Use Ctrl Y to do the opposite, i.e. redo. A handy little safety net for those over-eager keyboard fingers.

6. Freeze Panes

You know when you are scrolling down a large table of data and you cannot recall which columns are which? That’s the time to use Freeze Panes. It allows you to freeze just the top row, first column or any number of either, so you know exactly what relates to what.

7. The F4 Button

You can use this button to toggle you through the various options when creating an Absolute Reference. You can also use it to repeat your last action, where the function is available. As an example, if you’ve just applied a border to one cell, use F4 to apply it to others.

8. CTRL + Arrows

Stop scrolling and scrolling through your data. You can use this shortcut to take you instantly to where you wish to go – to the end of a row, end of a column or the very end of your file. (Just mind if you have gaps between data).

Each of these time-saving functions can make you more productive – not just for simple tasks but also on more complex ones. It pays to know how Excel works and what it can do for you.

How many of these are you already using? Hit reply and tell me your favourite!

P.S. And, of course, if you want to be more productive with lists, expense tracking, sums and working out what the data really means you can take one of my online courses.

The Essential Excel Skills for Business covers… well, the essentials! There is a Windows Version and a Version for Mac.

You may also be interested in my Excellent Spreadsheets