5 reasons to invest time in your basic Excel skills

Financial modelling skills checklist


Andrew Berkley


23 Oct 2019




I meet lots of people on F1F9 training courses who are looking to improve their financial modelling skills. Some have excellent knowledge and abilities when it comes to operating Excel: it is obvious that they have put in the practice. Others struggle.

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There are plenty of other skills-based activities in life where time spent acquiring the basics can open up endless possibilities. These include: touch-typing; riding a bicycle without stabilisers; learning a foreign language; driving a car; playing a musical instrument; and preparing to ski.

Skiing is particularly close to my heart: I eventually made progress in that first week in spite of things beginning so badly. Someone pinched my gloves, so I missed the first ten minutes of the beginners’ class and then launched myself tentatively down a gentle slope with no idea of how much speed I would accumulate (and no idea how to stop).

So here are five reasons why you should invest time in your basic Excel skills.

1) You will acquire a basic sense of competence quickly
It is good to feel competent early. It inspires confidence in you and others in turn will be delighted with your confidence.
If you get into the habit of feeling competent right from the start, then you are much more likely to challenge bad habits. Someone who has invested in the basic principles of touch-typing is much less likely to attempt to type with a pen in their hand.

2) You will develop a productive relationship with your mouse
We have thought long and hard about the mouse. It has its role to play, but that role is tiny compared with the multitude of other keyboard-based options available to you.

Use the mouse as a last resort and your productivity will soar. It’s the stabilisers on your bicycle: at first, it appears so necessary – but success relies on being prepared to replace it with more productive keyboard shortcuts.

3) You will feel good about having choices
Should I use Alt, I, R to insert a row or Ctrl + Shift + Plus? What is the difference between the two? Which one is more appropriate? Which gets the job done more quickly?

It’s a little like having two ways of framing an expression in a language. Do I say (in my poor French when choosing a restaurant): “Il faut que je mange ici” or “j’ai besoin de manger ici”?

Having an awareness of your possible options is immensely satisfying and – rather like the competence acquired early (see above) – it will build your confidence when faced with more advanced financial modelling challenges.

4) You will build up your muscle memory
Think about the areas where you rely on muscle memory – and the time you needed to put in to acquire it.
For me, it’s touch-typing, driving a car, bicycle-riding and playing the piano. Of those, the first required a summer of work experience. It’s the last that continues to require a lifetime of commitment.

Muscle memory required for basic Excel skills takes about as much time as it takes to learn how to touch-type. And once you have it, it is yours for good. The basic procedures are remarkably difficult to forget once you have them and they don’t tend to change even when a new version of Excel is issued.

5) You will achieve what you want to do with an economy of movement and sense of purpose
I find this reason the most satisfying of the lot. Colleagues will watch you with a sense of wonder as you make magic happen on the screen.

This is particularly effective as you navigate – in front of others – through a spreadsheet that you may not have seen before. Being able to use Ctrl + left square bracket (“[“) to hop to the source of a link and then F5, Enter to get back again can lead to gasps and comments: “how do you do that so quickly?”

Our free online course “Excel Proficiency Skills” is designed to help you make a short time investment by watching 16 short videos. There is still plenty for you to practise when you are done but you will have a sense of professionalism and efficiency that lies at the heart of every competent Excel user.


Andrew Berkley
With a background in business education and financial advisory work, Andrew leads financial modelling training at F1F9. He has been with F1F9 since 2013.