Why I Love PivotTables (or an obligatory Excel post)

macbook-336704_1920I don’t really know how to convey my love of organization and efficiency.  I love my meeting notebook and am a recent convert to bullet journaling for my personal notebooks (that’s right…I have a work notebook and personal notebook).  To-do lists abound…and I love it.  So it’s no surprise that I love Excel as a tool for organizing data and  generating beautiful charts and data visualizations.  It’s my go-to application (and I wouldn’t even consider myself an expert or even an intermediate user!)  

But a recent consulting project helped me hone my PivotTable and Table skills and gave me a whole new appreciation for this little wonder…

For folks who may not be that familiar, a pivot table summarizes data that exists in other parts of the workbook or spreadsheet.  Depending on what you need, PivotTables can automatically sort, count, total, and/or display the average of a set of data that is organized in a table elsewhere.  It can’t do higher-level analyses, but can take a lot of the formula-creating and legwork out of simple data summarization.

PivotTables helped me learn a number of lessons about data collection and analysis.  

  • I focused my questions and thoughts (more) critically
    Although Excel has a “Recommended PivotTables” function that assists folks with building tables that make sense with their data, I opted to create them on my own.  I’m a hands-on learner and exploring the different possibilities challenged me to focus on the purpose of the project and what data would have the most meaning.  Did a PivotTable work for everything? No.  Sometimes I had to create a table with more advanced formulas, but I knew when and how to do that as I explored the capabilities of the application.  These also helped me think a little bit harder about my entering data and creating templates for clients (and at work).   
  • No formulas needed for some fast and real-time data
    So for the times that a PivotTable worked, all you had to do was hit “Refresh” and some gorgeous data would populate.  No worries about formatting formulas or whether it was the correct cell selected – pure magic!  This came in handy when I wanted to see results concerning survey responses.   
  • I feel more confident in my data analysis skills
    Being a beginner is exhilarating.  Learning something knew reminds me that I am capable of…well, learning something new.  That’s a pretty awesome feeling!  I believe that small wins help keep us motivated for the journey ahead.  These feelings of pride in learning/teaching myself a new skill will carry me through the next challenge.  

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