Examples of non math uses for Excel
October 26, 2012 8:50 AM   Subscribe

For a project, I'm trying to collect uses of Excel that do not include any formulas or other use of math. What are some common documents that people use the format of Excel to create in an office setting?

In an office setting, a lot of people use (and often mandate) Excel for a lot of different uses other than math based spreadsheets. The main draw is the ability to use the column/row structure to organize information.

Examples I'm thinking of include project status docs where the projects might be listed in rows at the left, and columns across the top show months of the year. Colored blocks show how each project is scheduled (for example, Project X runs May-June, so that section would be marked in blue, etc).

Other examples are org charts, team status docs, etc. Anything that can be achieved with row/column table structure.

Can you help me list some other examples?
posted by sweetkid to Computers & Internet (68 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In my job we use Excel as a report format instead of Word. Our data is row base inventory items (e.g. 34 type XYZ bolts). No math is involved, just a simple sortable database of items.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:52 AM on October 26, 2012

that's an important distinction as well - I'd prefer examples that don't need the sort format. Basically anything that could easily be just as well represented by drawing on a piece of paper.
posted by sweetkid at 8:54 AM on October 26, 2012

I constantly have clients sending me site architecture plans as spreadsheets.

I do a specific type of calendar planning on a spreadhseet.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:55 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my office: Telephone extension lists (though sometimes sorted for alpha order). Lists of intakes.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:57 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Our staff phone directory is laid out in Excel.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:57 AM on October 26, 2012

We do a lot of inventory stuff in Excel. It's convenient (for very low values of convenience) for importing to/exporting from our proprietary software programs. Also used as a Scheduling Calendar (listing the employees that are working on certain days).
posted by Rock Steady at 8:58 AM on October 26, 2012

I see people using Excel for this all the time just to make tables. Like, they don't know how to create a table in Word so they do it in Excel because it already has those boxes all laid out.

Looking around my office, I see a list of employees and phone numbers, a chart showing territory assignments, and a phone tree all done in Excel with zero formulas or calcuations.
posted by Coffeemate at 8:59 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I made a map of our division using Excel. I connected it to a staff directory in another sheet and linked the names to the locations of their cubicle so you could look them up alphabetically and then click their name to highlight where they sit.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:01 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

some people use it to draw the the mortgage pig during boring meetings.
posted by vespabelle at 9:01 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is very common in the military to format duty rosters using Excel. OK now I have to explain what a duty roster or "Watchbill" is-- for instance on a Navy ship every day there might be 1/5 of the crew who are required to stay aboard overnight to make sure everything is OK, and each of them will have a job and be "on watch" for certain portions of that 24 hour period. Sailors on duty in engineering spaces, Sailors with weapons guarding the ship, some are assigned to be on duty at the ship's connection to the pier to welcome visitors, etc. So maybe 20 different positions in 4 or 6 or 8 hour shifts for an entire 24 hour period, with supplementary lists of who are the special teams for firefighting, for reaction to an armed attack, for who makes sure everyone gets fed, etc. There is no number computation in the spreadsheet-- but they are still often (I would say 90%) done in Excel.
posted by seasparrow at 9:02 AM on October 26, 2012

The type of project status chart you're talking about is a Gantt chart.

We use excel routinely for event management: tracking invitations sent, responses, attendees, etc. We also manage mailing lists and print address labels from it.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:03 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my old office, our transmittal forms were Excel spreadsheets.
posted by Kriesa at 9:03 AM on October 26, 2012

In non-business applications I use Excel to chart cross stitch patterns, woodworking projects, landscaping ideas, and seating charts.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:03 AM on October 26, 2012

Spreadsheet to track completion of parts of a large website. About 50 rows. Columns are page title/URL, copy written, page wireframed by designer, implemented by coder, verified complete and notes.

Client logins: client, type (FTP, SSH, etc), URI/location, username, password, notes.
posted by michaelh at 9:03 AM on October 26, 2012

posted by goethean at 9:06 AM on October 26, 2012

I had a spreadsheet that listed all the jobs I had applied for. (It had some math in it, but that was purely gratuitous.)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2012

So I use this nonprofit donor management database a lot. We store information about all of our individual and institutional donors in it, and also info about our gifts, grants, etc.

Now it's POSSIBLE to build a shiny custom report that displays all of this nicely... but it takes forever. So in practice, I often just export information into Excel.

So people tell me "I need a list of every grant we've ever applied for from the German government." "I need the email addresses for every individual who's ever given us more than $100." "I need the mailing addresses for these five ambassadors." I then extract this information from the database into Excel and send it to them. No formulas or math involved.

I also have an Excel sheet saved somewhere with the formats of various governments' email addresses. So if I know John Doe works for the government of Blah, I check the sheet and can guess that his address is doej@blah.bh or whatever.

Also: mail merges! Just pop in the name, form of address, email, and bam- 100 personalized emails sent out automatically...
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I keep my Girl Scout troop in excel. Names, grades, birthdays, parents' names, contact info, and a checklist for what projects they've participated in.
posted by phunniemee at 9:09 AM on October 26, 2012

The day I decided to do my resume in excel is the day I finally became happy with the formatting of it. I then convert it to pdf before I send it to people.

I've also used excel to make a template job application.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:09 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I work in the warehouse office for a beverage distributor. The most visible thing we use Excel for is our order forms. We have all our products divided by manufacturer or type. The order forms include the product name and item number and a little box for writing in the quantity being ordered, as well as the price per unit/case. No math, we print these for our sales/account reps and we use them to enter order invoices/orders into Quickbooks.

My office manager uses Excel for time sheets, but that includes math.
posted by MuChao at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2012

I used Excel to show an author visually how disjointed his manuscript was, and to compare it to my rearranged, edited version. I picked a color for each kind of section (recent history, 19th Century History, memoir) and used a tall, extremely narrow cell to represent one page. So, 52 pages of recent history were 52 narrow blue cells. He could then see that in his manuscript he would ioften go off waaaaay too long on one topic, but in the edited version there was a rhythm to it, in and out of the various topics regularly.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:13 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Small legal departments use Excel to organise scans of signed contracts ... kinda like a contract management database, but in a sortable and searchable table format.
posted by jannw at 9:14 AM on October 26, 2012

We use a shared Excel spreadsheet to report paid time off usage. At home, I track my car maintenance history in a spreadsheet.
posted by COD at 9:20 AM on October 26, 2012

I know of people who mock up application form UI is Excel...granted this is crazy behavior and most of these people seem to have migrated to PowerPoint for this use.

We commonly use spreadsheets for lists of tasks and then use an adjacency cell to mark its completion.

I've attempted to make art with Excel by coloring in the background color of the cells to make patterns...I can't say I was entirely successful.
posted by mmascolino at 9:23 AM on October 26, 2012

We use it to create signature sheets -- list all the people who need to sign in, five columns, room for signatures there. Vacation times by week are also there.

Also to get some data that fits well in a bunch of unrelated tables, and is easier to format in Excel than Word. (There is one sum only in that data.)
posted by jeather at 9:25 AM on October 26, 2012

Flow chart of the different processes involved in the management of the grant program I worked on.
posted by Rinoia at 9:25 AM on October 26, 2012

I work for myself and have lots of projects on the go so use it as a calendar with the days along the top and projects along the side, I colour in various colours for booked, to do, done, invoiced, paid. Been doing it for ages and it works well.
I also keep my reading diary index in a spreadsheet, sort it by author surname.
posted by LyzzyBee at 9:28 AM on October 26, 2012

Task lists, inventory lists, goal planning
posted by jgirl at 9:35 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've used it to make lists of story ideas by category (with blank boxes for ideas I still needed) to bring to planning meetings for magazine articles.
posted by limeonaire at 9:40 AM on October 26, 2012

I use Excel as a project checklist for all my documentation projects. I have the various states the documentation could be (Content/Formatting, Fix HREFs, TOC, Fix Images, etc) across the top, and the name of the documents down the left.

I also did the content inventory for our knowledgebase site and our intranet using Excel.

I could send you examples if you wanted.
posted by ralan at 9:42 AM on October 26, 2012

I use the same database as showbiz_liz and use Excel a lot for the same purposes she talks about; it's a great tool for manipulating lists.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:46 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I make forms using Excel. Inspection forms, sanitation forms, QC forms. Easy to lay out boxes and columns with borders. Also version control is semi-easy with a corresponding worksheet for logging changes made to the form.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 10:01 AM on October 26, 2012

We use it for writing manual test plans and test cases and tracking defects on those cases. Very old school.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 10:02 AM on October 26, 2012

I am a translator, and see a lot of instances where someone uses Excel as a page-layout program. There's no math involved. There's no tabular data involved. There are no forms. Just paragraphs (or "paragraphs"), bulleted lists, that kind of thing.

It is infuriating.
posted by adamrice at 10:03 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use it for set lists (what songs a group is going to play during a gig), keeping track of what tunes a group plays and in what key they play them in, what's in my freezers (although I added a bit of math this year to keep track of how much of somethings we eat in a set frame of time, that's new, and I've used the spreadsheet for years for this), and I'm pretty sure I've made a few sign up lists in it.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:05 AM on October 26, 2012

From the US government, GSA not only has an online per diem rate search tool but also you can download a spreadsheet of (IANA GSA staff person) per diem rates.
posted by pointystick at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2012

qualitative data analysis
posted by canine epigram at 10:26 AM on October 26, 2012

Classroom seating charts (cells filled black for desks or tables - visual representation).
posted by catlet at 10:35 AM on October 26, 2012

At most of the places I've worked the sales people used Excel to make up sales quotes. Sometimes with math, but often with the sales person just making up numbers and sticking them in an official-looking form.
posted by XMLicious at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Templates of labels for programable keyboards/keypads.

Connection templates for the back of a pc (what gets plugged into where).

Workstation inventories (name, location, IP address)

Equipment sign out sheets.
posted by cmdnc0 at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2012

Questionnaires in spreadsheets are commonly sent back and forth for information security and compliance auditing in financial services.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:51 AM on October 26, 2012

I've got a map of the entire office (160 people) that also includes every network and phone jack, all networked printers and copiers, every workstation and every extension; however I wouldn't consider this tabular data.

Most people in my office use Excel to keep lists and wouldn't know how to enter a formula if their life depended on it. (For lists, I usually use a text file.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I worked at a blood bank in the donor recruitment department, our promotions calendar was a giant excel spreadsheet. There were sheets that visually showed each month in a typical calendar format, then also sheets that listed each promotion and the details, dates, etc.
posted by radioamy at 11:03 AM on October 26, 2012

I see your classroom seating charts and raise you random seating charts - a new seating chart for each week without everyone having to draw lots. I use the random function for that, but no other math.
posted by amf at 11:11 AM on October 26, 2012

these answers are so perfect btw. Please continue sharing these and thanks all!
posted by sweetkid at 11:21 AM on October 26, 2012

I've used it to make timelines that show the branching of various Christian denominations over time, as it's easy to make boxes and connect them with diagonal lines in Excel, and you can color the boxes different colors to show different "families." It's just a picture, but it's faster and easy to "draw" with the boxes in excel than to draw individual boxes in another program.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:29 AM on October 26, 2012

I use it for my orders in order of when they come in, so I know what to make, what the specifics are, what date they are due, if they've paid, name, address, invoice #, etc.
posted by Vaike at 11:31 AM on October 26, 2012

I'm a serials librarian and I've got a check-in spreadsheet for magazines. Our newspaper sheet has months down the left side and days across the top; magazines have years down the left side and the applicable periodicity (week, month, quarter, volume, whatever) across the top. We mark an X to show when an item has arrived.

I also have a standing order spreadsheet of books we get regularly (usually annually) so we can check those in and note payment info, location, etc. Some libraries use special library software for this type of thing, but we've found Excel is more flexible and easier for all levels of employees to use (though I don't think it's scalable; if we were much bigger I might look for a different solution).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:45 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have some calendar templates in Excel. One is a month display with large squares and a tiny set of squares in the bottom corner to show last month and next month, just like the calendars you buy in the store. For some reason, I missed buying one at the dollar store, so I printed out my own every month to hang in my office.

My other calendar template is 7 columns wide and 52 rows long, so it shows a whole year in weekly blocks. I tint every other month so I can see them easily. I use it to highlight which days a (ahem) monthly event occurs. Very easy to review the whole year at a glance and notice any schedule anomalies.

I have a copy of a spreadsheet that plays a Hangman game. I've seen one that does Tetris, but I don't have a copy. Both of those use formulas, macros, and/or lookup tables, but they are definitely not math related.

I also had my resume in Excel, in the days when you actually used a paper copy. Back then creating a pdf required paid software (gasp!) so I put it back into Word once people starting wanting it as an attachment. Now.... thanks for the idea!
posted by CathyG at 11:55 AM on October 26, 2012

I just had to sign an "expense worksheet" that is made using Excel purely to make a form composed of lots of boxes. It's possible the amounts were summed automatically, but as far as I can tell, it was done in Excel purely to have a way of laying out a form.
posted by hoyland at 12:31 PM on October 26, 2012

At my current job we use excel to track the status of weekly lectures that we run (I work in academic admin) to track who's speaking, what's confirmed, what room bookings are needed, what A/V requirements we have, etc. Also for student email lists.

You also frequently see it for things like correspondence logs - this came up when I was a temp receptionist.
posted by SoftRain at 12:37 PM on October 26, 2012

One thing we use it for is localization. Anything that is text in a software project (like a game) needs to go into excel - user interface, tutorial or help prompts, any dialogue, etc. - in order for the localization teams to translate it.

Columns are things like category (ex: "TUTORIAL"), tags ("TUTORIAL_SAVE_1"), the content of the tag ("To save, press CTRL+S!"), whether it's been writer approved, whether it's been passed into localization yet, whether it's been cut or if a recording is associated with it or who the speaker is. On small projects, foreign language translations may be on more columns or separate tabs.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:56 PM on October 26, 2012

Having worked onsite at a military location for quite a while, I can tell you that Nothing would happen in DoD without Excel & Powerpoint. Basically, if your idea won't fit in three bullet-pointed slides or two worksheets, it is DOA.

These are the standard tools of the military, not guns and bombs.

Here are some things I've seen Excel used for:

Maps (lots of different kinds, all very bad)
Birthday Cards
Phone Lists
Pot Luck Sign-Up
Technical Checklists (for db recovery, etc)
Travel Schedules
Project Planning
Software Requirements Management
Exporting data to a portable format for disconnected analysis
Publishing a data standard
A/B Testing results
IT Portfolio Management
Emergency Response Plan
Monthly Project Status Reports
Personnel Evaluation Notes
Security Plans

to name a few.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:00 PM on October 26, 2012

Birthday Cards

posted by sweetkid at 1:08 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Birthday Cards


Some people really, REALLY don't know how to format Word documents. "Wait. You mean to say we need text on the left side AND the RIGHT side of the page? At the SAME time? Word can't do that!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:47 PM on October 26, 2012

Uses of Excel at my small online retail company:

-Contact list
-Master list of products, mainly used to keep track of SKUs so we can assign new ones
-List of discontinued products (and many other variations on "list of products and their attributes")
-Marketing/promotional calendar--column of promotions along the left side, row of dates across the top, and highlight/fill to show which promotions are active on which dates. This makes it easy to see which sales and promotions are happening at the same time so we can easily know which associated graphics are going to be on the site at the same time.
-Raw order data--when something goes wrong with our storefront backend the raw data for orders is dumped into a CSV textfile then imported to Excel, where I can then easily view the important details of each order
-Lists of orders to be refunded (and many other variations on "list of orders and their components")
-Keeping track of bloggers who review our products, including a tally of 'points' they earn for reviews (calculated manually, without any formulas or spreadsheet math)
-Selected inventory is uploaded to a third-party site for sale there, and per their instructions we format the inventory list in Excel

And just in case it's relevant to your project, 40% of our employees (OK, so that's really just 2 of us out of 5) don't actually use Excel, but instead use OpenOffice Calc and save the spreadsheets in .xls format so they can be viewed and edited by Excel users.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:52 PM on October 26, 2012

I used Excel recently at work to do up floor plans showing exactly where carrell lights were out. (I work in a university library.) I wanted to make something very visual that would actually be helpful for the maintenance team - instead of saying, "Lights are out on the 5th Floor - go fix'em!" Personally, I love it for a line-a-day diary which I have been keeping since 2007. It's great for settling arguments - ("That time the van got stuck in the mud in the Pine Barrens was last summer!" "No! It was 2010 - and I can prove it!") - plus I can do a search if need be. You know; doctor visits, the last time I bleached my hair, etc. etc.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 3:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of film production documents use Excel despite using few numbers and no real math.

A quick rundown:

- Call Sheets (which tell the whole crew exactly who is supposed to be where, when, with what equipment, for how long, and under what conditions)

- Production Reports (these are a sort of "Day After" version of the Call Sheet, telling the producers and studio exactly what went down on set the day before)

- Crew Contact Lists, Vendor Contact Lists, Cast Lists, and other assorted documents that could probably be designed in Word or another program, but people default to Excel for boring reasons.

- The usual span of logs and breakdowns and other kinds of spreadsheets. Some of these involve math and formulas and numbers, but a lot don't. For example, right now I'm using Excel spreadsheets to track signed photo releases and hairy clearance issues, as well as a huge log of who got copies of the script, when, and in what format.
posted by Sara C. at 3:18 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not technically an office environment, but I have often used Excel to create worksheets-- as in worksheets. (I didn't make those.)

Excel is great for keeping rows and columns aligned- questions and blanks for answers, one column to match to another, etc. Word would be better for worksheets if it wasn't so terrible at alignment.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:27 PM on October 26, 2012

The worst document ever was laid out in excel and used none of the functionality of excel. It was a finance form used at my university to allocate funds for student workers and graduate assistants. How bad was it done? Well, the designer did no understand print area and wasted paper for yes, a border used on a cell that became an "widow" on the next page. Because of the layout none of the entered information actually fit in the cell for readability.
posted by jadepearl at 6:39 PM on October 26, 2012

Forms. Excel makes for brilliant standardized form layouts that can be filled in through Excel, printed out to be filled in by hand or quickly altered.

I have used Excel to lay out forms, checklists, to draw up organisation charts, to track hospital records, to organize a gala dinner with different worksheets to track ticket sales, people to call, costs, table settings, meals, etc.

Timelines for historical research, so I could track multiple people across the same period, then arrange them by family relationships and countries as well.

Shared editorial planning - you mark out a 3x5 cell block for each page, and then you can make a rough table with the covers offset and quickly colourcode, note or comment each block to show how far it's gone in the editorial process, who's assigned to it, whether the ad has been sold, etc. The editorial people I know all do this.

Shared editing of long policy documents that are in word. Because they were outline-structured in word, one of my staff likes to grab the outline, then export the headlines into excel with multiple columns for the other staff's feedback for each point. Doing it in word can get messy with tracking changes and so on - people focus on grammar and spelling, not the actual policy points. In excel, it is surprisingly swift to scroll down and comment on the document.

Website structures - you can do this in powerpoint or any kind of mind-mapping program, but excel is 'cleaner' and forces a nice grid structure. I have several spreadsheets with website hierachies on one tab, and the other tabs have a grid layout of the main pages, sidebars etc.

I know someone who keeps track of every item in their house and every gift they have given, colour coded and date tracked etc. She organises her whole life by Excel.

I have used Numbers (pretty! weak) and google spreadsheets (love the forms! no advanced functions), and my husband swears by Bento and Filemaker, but I always go back to Excel. Everyone can open it and it's so plain and simple to crazy complex.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:29 PM on October 26, 2012

We use it for running experiments; we make the file have many, many sheets. Each trial of the experiment goes into its own sheet, with the result appearing in a particular 'Result' cell. The first sheet of all has a link to the same 'Result' cell of each sheet. Once all the trials are entered into their respective sheet, the complete result tabulation shows up on the first sheet. So you can see the whole experiment, but all the data traces back to its original data.

We also use it for calendars (i.e. sign up sheets) and to make floor plans.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:52 PM on October 26, 2012

I use it as a platform to write applications that have nothing to do with Excel. Using the VBA macro capabilities, I've written fully functioning web browsers, rss readers, simple board games, user interface mock-ups, and much more. Sometimes I'll use the cells in the spreadsheet as a data structure, other times I'll do nothing spreadsheet-like at all.

I can usually be confident that nearly every computer I come across will enable me to write programs, and send them to other people, even when other development or scripting tools are unavailable.

With very few exceptions, most people I work with at a wide range of organizations can run Excel macros (some places have greater levels of security, blocking macros from being run). While I may not be permitted to email an executable file, I can send a spreadsheet without problem.
posted by i love cheese at 8:01 PM on October 26, 2012

We use spreadsheets for getting comments on multiple things/ideas from multiple people. The thing being commented on goes at the start of each row, and each column has a different person's name at the top, so they can just hide everyone else's columns and go down each row filling in their comments.
posted by mxc at 8:05 PM on October 26, 2012

Excel can be used to formulate and solve optimisation problems as Linear Programmes using the solver tool in excel
posted by mataboy at 8:52 PM on October 26, 2012

Creating an initial paper edit when editing videos.
posted by KateViolet at 7:04 AM on October 27, 2012

On unpreview, one of my previous schools used it for making teaching schedules and recess schedules (an ESL school in S. Korea).
posted by kathrynm at 4:39 PM on October 27, 2012

One of my coworkers uses it to make thumbnails to figure out which ads and stories go where in one of the magazines we do. She's not a designer. :)
posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:12 PM on October 27, 2012

« Older In Defense of Meat   |   ______ Apparel Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.