Speeding Up Excel

From Tayyab Hussain, via chandoo.org.

Tips for Formula Speeding Up

No doubt excel is a powerful analytical tool but most of the people do not plan before designing there spreadsheet. One should plan the Start and End in mind, and the assumption that the spreadsheet will never be used again should kept out of mind. Perhaps this is might be the number one rule. Spreadsheets are about giving correct information to the user, not possible erroneous information that looks good.

Excel Best Practices & Design


Your spreadsheet should be easy to read and follow. Most of the users spend about 30%, or more, of their time formatting their spreadsheets. Use the cell format of Text if really necessary. Any cell containing a formula, that is referencing a Text formatted cell, will also become formatted as Text. This format is not usually needed but very much used. If you apply a number format to specific cells avoid applying the format to the entire column. If you do, Excel will assume you are using these cells.


Try and ensure all related raw data is on one Worksheet and in one workbook. When putting in headings bold the font. This will help Excel recognize them as headings when you use one of its functions. When putting data into the data area of your spreadsheet try to avoid blank rows and columns. This is because a lot of Excels built-in features will assume a blank row or column is the end of your data. Use real dates for headings and format them appropriately. If you want the names of the months as headings type them in as 1/1/2001, 1/2/2001, 1/3/2001 etc then format them as “mmmm”. This is a very simple procedure that is all too often overlooked by many. Don’t put in one cell what could go in more than one cell, i.e. the names of 100 people to put into your spreadsheet, don’t put their full name in one cell. Instead, put the First name in one cell and their surname in the next cell to the right.


This is the biggest part of any spreadsheet! Without them you really only have a document. Excel has over 300 built in Functions (with all add-ins installed), but chances are you will only use a handful of these.
The usual practice in regards to formulae in Excel is the referencing of entire columns, this is a big mistake! This forces Excel to look through potentially millions, of cells which it need not be concerned with at all. One of the very best ways to overcome this is to familiarize you with the use of dynamic named ranges.

Speeding Up Re-Calculations

A common problem with poorly designed spreadsheets is that they become painfully slow in recalculating. Some people will suggest that a solution to this problem is putting a calculation into Manual via Tools>Options>Calculations. A spreadsheet is all about formulas and calculations and the results that they produce. If you are running a spreadsheet in manual calculation mode, sooner or later you will read some information off your spreadsheet which will not have been updated, this means using F9 on regular intervals, which can cause bad results, because Pressing F9 can be overlooked.
Arrays, Sumproduct (used for multiple condition, summing or counting), UDFs, Volatile Functions and Lookup functions, can slow down the recalculations of spreadsheet.

Array Formulas

The biggest problem with array formulas is that they look efficient. An Array must loop through each and every cell they reference (one at a time) and check them off against a criteria. Arrays are best suited to being used on single cells or referencing only small ranges. A possible alternative are the Database functions. Another very good alternative which is mostly overlooked is the Pivot tables. Pivot Tables can be frightening at the first site but it is the most powerful feature of Excel.

User Defined Functions

These are written in VBA and can be used the same way as built in functions can be, but unfortunately, no matter how good the UDF is written the, it will perform at the same speed as one of Excel’s built-in functions, even if it would be necessary to use several nested functions to get the same result. UDFs should only be used if an Excel function is not available

Volatile Functions

Volatile functions are simple functions that will recalculate each time a change of data occurs in any cell on any worksheet. Most functions which are non-Volatile will only recalculate if a cell that they are referencing has changed. Some of the volatile functions are NOW(), TODAY(), OFFSET(), CELL(),INDIRECT(), ROWS(), COLUMNS() . If you are using the result of these functions frequently throughout your spreadsheet, avoid nesting these functions within other functions to get the desired result especially in array formulas and UDF’s. Simply use the volatile function into a single cell on your spreadsheet and reference that cell from within other functions.

Lookup Functions

The Famous Vlookup(). Excel is very rich in lookup functions. These functions can be used to extract data from just about any table of data. The biggest mistake made by most, is the forcing of Excel to look in thousands, if not millions of cells superfluously. The other mistake is that the lookup functions are told to find an exact match. This means that Excel will need to check all cells until it finds an exact match. If possible, always use True for VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP. So, whenever possible, sort your data appropriately. Sorting the lookup columns is the single best way to speed up lookup functions. Another Bad practice is the double use of the Lookup Function nested within one of Excels Information functions. EG:

=if(isna(vlookup(cell ref,Range,2,false))=true, “Please check”, (vlookup(cell ref,Range,2,false)))

This is used to prevent the #N/A error from displaying when no match can be found. This forces Excel to use the VLOOKUP twice. As you can imagine, this doubles the number of Lookup functions used. The best approach is to live with the #N/A, or hide it via CONDITIONAL FORMATTING.


Lean to use database functions. They are very easy to use and are often much faster than their Lookup & Reference counterpart.

Organize your worksheets vertically. Use only one or two screens of columns, but as many rows as possible. A strict vertical scheme promotes a clearer flow of calculation.

When possible, a formula should refer only to the cells above it. As a result, your calculations should proceed strictly downward, from raw data at the top to final calculations at the bottom.

If your formulas require a large amount of raw data, you might want to move the data to a separate worksheet and link the data to the sheet containing the formulas.

Formulas should be as simple as possible to prevent any unnecessary calculations. If you use constants in a formula, calculate the constants before entering them into the formula, rather than having Microsoft Excel calculate them during each recalculation cycle.

Reduce, or eliminate, the use of data tables in your spreadsheet or set data table calculation to manual.

If you only need a few cells to be recalculated, replace the equal signs (=) of the cells you want to be recalculated. This is only an improvement if you are calculating a very small percentage of the formulas on your worksheet.

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