Microsoft Excel is an exceptionally useful tool for small businesses, but if used incorrectly, it can make the time frame for completing projects feel hopelessly long. Fortunately, it’s easy to pick up the pace if you’re aware of the program’s hidden gems. If Excel is currently occupying far too much of your time, it’s to start using these nifty Excel features:

  1. Flash Fill

A shockingly underutilized feature, Flash Fill saves time by detecting patterns and using that information to automatically fill in data. Flash Fill can be used to:

  • Format phone numbers and email addresses
  • Separate first and last names
  • Concentrate already separated names
  • Extract first or last initials from names
  1. Watch Window

Unsure about a particular formula’s calculations? Confirm your suspicions with Excel’s Watch Window, which prevents constant scrolling by letting you watch cells (and their attached formulas) that are not currently visible.

  1. Conditional Formatting

Conditional formatting isn’t exactly hidden — the icon for it is right on the home tab. However, few Excel users think to use this handy tool, which offers easy access to a variety of options for shading cells based on the data they contain.

  1. Icon Sets

Conditional formatting includes a useful option known as icon sets. This formatting tool features a vast array of icons, including directional icons, shapes, and a variety of other indicators. These can be managed via the conditional formatting rules manager.

  1. Paste Special

Typically, when data is copied from one cell and pasted into another, all of the information from the original cell is copied. However, with Paste Special, it is possible to paste only certain parts of a particular cell. For example, if, while using the Paste Special function, you wish to merely paste the formatting from a given selection of cells, you can do so by selecting the formulas option within the Paste Special window.

  1. Sparklines

Excel’s formatting is generally easy to navigate, but things get a bit messier when graphs and other visual displays are added to the mix. Sparklines solve this issue by adding small charts to various cells’ backgrounds. These make it easier to observe patterns while quickly glancing over spreadsheets.

  1. Power View

The highly interactive visualization feature Power View was originally designed to promote ad-hoc reporting. Popular Power View visualization features include maps, bubble charts, and card view.

Many users already struggled to pinpoint Power View in Excel 2013, but now, it is even more difficult to find in the 2016 update. Fortunately, it’s still available — all that is required is a customized ribbon and the Power View add-in.

  1. Pivot Tables

One of the more intimidating Excel features, pivot tables allow you to analyze and summarize data sets.  Instead of crossing your eyes over a full spreadsheet, Excel will easily regroup your data so you can make better comparisons.  By viewing your data in these different perspectives, you can get a better picture of where your revenue is coming from by customer, offering, month, etc.  

These tools can speed up a variety of functions, but they may not be enough for your business needs. Red flags indicating the necessity of CRM assistance include frequently missing data from Excel files, an overly complex client onboarding system, and minimal visibility regarding your team’s performance. If, after implementing the features listed above, you continue to struggle, now may be the time to take the next step and transition to a CRM, which will improve efficiency more than all of the above steps combined.