Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Drawing Toolbar

Just a quick post today, and no math.

Before I get into today's tip, I want to explain a bit about my background.  When I went to college (2000-2007), we never learned anything about Excel.  We did our regressions and such in a program that I think was called R.  There might have been another program too, but nothing that anybody uses in real life.  Definitely not SAS.  Anyway, when I started applying for jobs, everyone kept asking me how comfortable I was with Excel, and I would tell them I hadn't really used it but I'm sure I could pick it up pretty quickly.

I didn't get called back on these jobs, so when I interviewed for my current job, I lied my ass off.  I don't recommend this in most scenarios, but I've used enough Microsoft products to know that the help files are pretty exhaustive and anything else I can find online easily enough.  It's just a bunch of boxes and numbers, how hard could it be?

Within a couple of weeks I was considered the office Excel guru.  I would get a lot of comments along the lines of "Wow, how do you know all of this stuff?" and "You're lucky, we never learned this kind of thing when I was in school", and in my head I'd be answering "I literally copied and pasted your question into Google, clicked on the first link, and read it" and "No, you're lucky!  Because, um, uh... dammit."

Eventually though, the help file failed me.  I tend to spend a lot of time lining up charts and tables and I realized that this spending felt a lot like wasting, so I went into the help file and typed in "snap to grid".

Do you know how many articles the help file has about snap to grid?  Zero.  Zip.  Nothing.  I might as well have typed in "make things you drag line up  more better".  But this option is in Excel!  Do you know what it's called?  That's right, snap to grid.

And no, I didn't Google it in this case, instead I wondered who would be stupid enough to make a program with a grid that you couldn't snap to and proceeded to waste roughly two years of my life trying to line my charts up to within a pixel of each other using a ruler.

Today's tip then is to use the draw menu.  There are some fantastic things in the draw menu, such as:

Snap to Grid
Align (Left, Right, Center, Top, Middle, Bottom)
Distribute (Horizontally, Vertically)
Text Box

Snap to grid does what you'd expect, and it was everything I imagined it would be.

The align and distribute options are great for lining up or equally spacing multiple charts without resizing your columns and rows.  Here is an example of align bottom:


Why yes, that IS bold-italic Comic Sans!  You like it too?

Finally, if you make a lot of charts and you aren't using auto shapes or text boxes, you're either very lucky to have such nice data or you're doing it wrong.  I'm all for making charts correctly, but every once in a while I have an outlier that I have to show in a graph but I don't want to smash all of my data down to fit it on the axis.  Before you can even think of some fancy way to finesse a solution with alternate axes or clever use of data labels, I've simply drawn the point onto my chart and I'm good to go.  Things like this used to bother the perfectionist in me, but because I have deadlines and because so many of my charts seem to be one-off projects instead of something I'm going to do over and over, I no longer mind this "duct tape" approach to fixing charts.

Also, for things like that outlier above, another great feature is grouping.  You can select the text box, the line, and the square, right click, and then select "Group"; now they will all move in perfect harmony instead of us having to drag them one at a time.

That's all for today.  I'll probably get back to my large claim chart later this week.  Oh, and I've sort've narrowed down the scope of this blog.  I'm going to focus on Excel, general office productivity, and whatever video/board games I'm currently playing.  I'll try to keep that last one to a minimum, but I'm sure some people would like a detailed analysis of the math behind Settlers of Catan.

* Every once in a while I do horrible things at work just to get a reaction.  Things like using donut charts, drop shadow, 3d-effects, and Comic Sans.  Nobody notices.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
David @ Work by David Montgomery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.