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Five Spreadsheet Functions

One of the best things that a spreadsheet has to offer is a whole bunch of pre-made functions ready for you to use right out of the box.

Spreadsheets are great at doing calculations, and with the right function in your arsenal, you can solve almost any problem.

To help illustrate this idea, let’s go over five different functions you can find in a spreadsheet and just how you can use them to improve your life.

Function No. 1 – IF

The IF function is awesome! IF I could pick one function to be my favorite, this would be the one.

The IF function allows your spreadsheet to make a decision. It works as follows.

IF something is true, do one thing, otherwise, do something else.

This can further be explained with an example.

IF I have eaten 5 apples this month, enter an “Yes” into Cell A4, otherwise, enter “No”.

Using the IF function in a spreadsheet

Although the IF function embodies a simple concept, it is very powerful.

With the IF function, you can create all kinds of spreadsheet tools that are able to help with or even make decisions for you. This function gives you the opportunity to build a workbook with the power to make dynamic calculations based on the information that is stored within your spreadsheet.

This means that your spreadsheets are granted more power, and that power can make your life easier.

Function No. 2 – COUNT

Let’s say you have a spreadsheet to do list that you use to keep track of your tasks. Now let’s say that you’ve got so many tasks on your list that you’ve simply lost count.

Going back through your list to see just how many items you’ve got on your plate seems like way too much effort.

But thanks to the COUNT function, you can let your spreadsheet count the tasks for you.

While it might take you around 86 seconds or so to count up all of your tasks, your spreadsheet can do it in an instant. Now that’s powerful!

But wait, there’s more!

You can have your spreadsheet count all sorts of things. It can count:

  • Empty cells
  • Colored cells
  • And even cells that contain only numbers

What’s more, you can put together the COUNT function with the IF function and you can seriously customize what your counting. There is even a function called COUNTIF that combines these functions for you.

Using the COUNTIF function in a spreadsheet

Function No. 3 – SUM

As powerful as COUNT is, sometimes counting doesn’t cut it.

Instead you will find that you have to take your counting all the way up to addition. After all, knowing that you made 20 total purchases can be helpful (counting), but also knowing that you spent $23,254.50 total (addition) tells you a whole different story.

The good news is that the SUM function can do all of this summation you.

Using the SUM function in a spreadsheet

If you find yourself facing big numbers that need to be added together, the SUM function makes it super easy to do so. In addition, the SUM function will recalculate the total any time any of your numbers change.

In other words, you don’t have to type everything back into a calculator all over again.

Plus, just like the COUNT function, the SUM function can be combined with the IF function and give you a much more selective sum total overall.

Using the SUMIF function in a spreadsheet

Function No. 4 – IFERROR

Do you ever put together those functions or formulas that work correctly most of the time? I know I do!

But even then, most of the time does not mean all of the time. This is where the IFERROR function can help.

The IFERROR function checks your main formula or function, and if there is no error, it does nothing.

However, if there is an error of some sort the IFERROR function will give you a specific result that you specify ahead of time. This is much better than your formula spitting out some random error code that will break all of your calculations going forward.

An error within the spreadsheet

In essence, the IFERROR function helps you in the long run because it helps guard against unexpected errors and bad data.

This function can’t solve all of your problems, but it sure makes it easier to build a robust (hard to break) tool that will help you to better manage and organize your life.

Function No. 5 – TODAY

This function does one thing and one thing only. It tells you what day it currently is.

The TODAY function simply returns the current date.

Why is this useful? This is useful because this will act as the cornerstone for any spreadsheet you build that has to do with dates.

If you are trying to build a custom calendar or a day-to-day calculator, the TODAY function will be an invaluable asset to have in your arsenal.

So whether you act on this information TODAY or IF you are going to COUNT down the days, I have no doubt that there is SUM great information here that will help you use spreadsheets more effectively overall. And IFERRORs seem to creep into your spreadsheet, you now have the tools to deal with the problems.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This post is so helpful! I feel like I understand the logic behind these functions a lot better now! Who knew the “COUNT” function could count by color? Not me! But I do now thanks to you!

  2. IFERROR is not something of which I had heard. However, it strikes me as similar to the try-throw-catch paradigm in many programming languages, with the same fundamental issue. Either you know the error you expect to see and should check for that (e.g. check if your denominator is zero, not if the result is undefined), or you don’t know what error might occur, in which case you’d probably just be better letting the cell display “#ERROR” – either way, you’re going to have to debug it.

    Thoughts? What kind of situations and errors do you find yourself using IFERROR for?

    1. You make an excellent point. If there is a specific error you expect to see and would like to prepare for that, you could use something like the IF function to check a certain condition and then branch off to deal with the error properly when you encounter it.

      However, to answer your main question of, “What kind of situations and errors do you find yourself using IFERROR for?”, here are two examples:

      Example 1
      When using the VLOOKUP function, sometimes a result cannot be found. This results in an error returned by the VLOOKUP function. Instead of presenting the user with an error, you can use the IFERROR function to return something much more useful.

      Example 2
      You create an expense tracking spreadsheet for your friend. They just have to enter a description and the amount, and you have set up the spreadsheet to sum the amounts. Now let’s say that your friend enters a non-number value into the amount column by mistake. They will get an error from the spreadsheet when it tries to sum the amounts. This can be very confusing to the user.

      To help them out, you set up the IFERROR function within your formula to notify them to check the amount column whenever an error occurs. This will make it easier on them to figure out and correct the problem.

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