Excel 2003: Six ways to streamline Excel’s user interface

By David H. Ringstrom, CPA

It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day use of Excel 2003 and overlook minor tweaks that can make a significant difference in your use of Excel. In this article I'll review five of my favorite Excel 2003 tricks. Most involve customizing the user interface so that I can speed through my work without hitting unnecessary bumps or screen prompts. These tricks will work equally well in Excel 2002, but only some apply to Excel 97 and 2000:

1. Extend your recently used file list

By default Excel shows the four most recent files that you've opened, but you can expand this list to as many as 9:


  • a. Choose Tools, and then Options. 
  • b. As shown in Figure 1, click the General tab, and then set the Recently Used File List to a maximum of 9.

Figure 1: Expand your frequently used file list to 9.

2. Display the entire menu

By default Excel hides commands that you haven't used recently. The full menu appears after a second or two, but most users prefer to see the same menu every time:


  • a. Choose Tools, Customize, and then click on the Options tab. 
  • b. Click Always Show Full Menus, and then Click Close.

Figure 2: Set Excel to always give you the same menu every time.

3. Disable the Clipboard Task Pane

Excel has always had a strange relationship with the Windows clipboard. Just about every other program keeps items on the clipboard until you cut or copy something else there. Conversely, Excel tends to clear the clipboard as soon as you carry out an action that doesn't involve navigating or pasting. Excel 2003 tried to compensate for this by displaying recently copied items in the Clipboard Task Pane, shown in Figure 3. If you find this annoying, you can easily disable it:


  • a. Click the Options button at the bottom of the Clipboard task pane. 
  • b. Clear all of the checkboxes, and then close the Clipboard task pane. 
  • c. If you change your mind later, choose Edit, and then Office Clipboard to restore the Clipboard task pane.

Figure 3: The Clipboard task pane is intended to compensate for Excel's odd relationship with the clipboard.

4. Minimize the Reviewing Toolbar

Even if you turn it off, this toolbar reappears whenever you open an e-mail attachment. You could right-click on it and turn it off, but a better practice is to tuck it way so that only one icon appears, as shown in Figure 4. Simply grab the left-hand edge of the toolbar, and drag it to the right edge of your screen so that only one icon is visible.

Figure 4: Don't let the Reviewing Toolbar take up valuable screen space.

5. Disable the Paste/Insert Icons

You may have noticed the little clipboard icon that appears when you paste data into a worksheet. This little icon makes a Paste Options menu available, from which you can make changes to how your data pasted on the worksheet. Some folks may find this helpful, but many find it annoying. Fortunately you can easily disable the Paste Options feature:


  • a. Choose Tools, and then Options. 
  • b. Choose the Edit tab, and then clear the check boxes for Show Paste Options Buttons and Show Insert Options Buttons.

Figure 5: The Paste Options button can be disabled.

Figure 6: Clear the checkboxes shown to disable the Paste and Insert Options buttons.

6. Utilize the Places Bar

As shown in Figure 7, the Places Bar is the list of icons on the left-hand side of the Office dialog boxes. You can place shortcuts to frequently used folders here:


  • a. Click once on the folder, and then choose Tools, and then Add to My Places, as shown in Figure 7. 
  • b. You can right-click on an item in the Places bar and move it up or down one position at a time. This menu also allows you to remove items you've added to the Places Bar, but you cannot remove the default locations like My Recent Documents, My Documents, and so on.

Figure 7: The Places Bar can give you once-click access to widely-scattered folders.

A previous version of this article first appeared on www.accountingweb.com .

About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at david@acctadv.com  or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link