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Hit the ground running with Excel's custom workspaces

Give your Excel students instant access to their worksheet data by teaching them how to build custom workspaces.

It doesn't matter what kind of project you're working on: The job will go more smoothly if you assemble all the necessary tools and resources before you start. Constantly stopping to hunt down a missing item—be it a screwdriver, a dictionary, or an Office file—will frustrate you and slow you down.

Excel's saved workspace feature is designed along this principle. The feature allows users to open and arrange all the workbooks they need for a particular project, then save that arrangement of workbooks in a special file. When it's time to tackle the project, they can just open the file and BOOM—everything they need is neatly laid out for them. In fact, they can take this convenience a step further by placing a shortcut to the workspace file in Excel's XLStart folder. Then, whenever they launch Excel, it will open the workspace automatically. Here's a quick walk-through of the procedure for setting up a workspace file. You'll just need a couple of sample workbooks for your classroom demo.

Creating a workspace file
Creating a workspace file is simply a matter of opening the necessary workbooks and arranging them to suit you.
  1. Open all the workbooks you want to use, and display the desired worksheet in each one. (You can also use the New Window option to open different worksheets belonging to any open workbook.)
  2. Size and arrange the worksheets within the Excel window so that you can see the appropriate data. For instance, in Figure A, we displayed purchase order numbers and vendors from one workbook and two different sheets from a second workbook containing additional vendor and check request information.

Start by opening and arranging the worksheets you want to see in the workspace.

  1. When the workspace looks the way you want, choose Save Workspace from the File menu. In the Save Workspace dialog box, type a name for the file. For instance, in Figure B, we typed the name budget. Excel will supply the appropriate extension (.xlw).
  2. After you type a filename, click Save.

When Excel opens the Save Workspace dialog box, type a name for the workspace in the File Name text box.

Make sure your students understand that the workbooks displayed in a workspace exist independently of the workspace file. The workspace file merely stores information about which worksheets it should display and how they should be arranged on-screen. Your students should always save the changes they make to any of the workbooks.
Opening a workspace
After you create a workspace file, you can open it whenever you want to display that specific arrangement of worksheets.
  1. Click the Open button on the Standard toolbar.
  2. Set the Files Of Type option to display all files or Microsoft Excel files, as shown in Figure C.

To locate your workspace file, first choose All Files or Microsoft Excel Files from the Files Of Type drop-down list.

  1. Locate the workspace file and click Open. Excel will use the information in the workspace file to re-create your arrangement of worksheets.

Opening a workspace automatically
OK, we promised a little automation, and here it is. To make Excel open a workspace file every time it runs, just follow these steps.
  1. Use Windows Explorer or My Computer to locate the workspace file.
  2. Right-click the workspace file, and choose Copy from the shortcut menu.
  3. Locate your XLStart folder (typically in C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office) and right-click it.
  4. Choose Paste Shortcut from the shortcut menu.

From now on, whenever you launch Excel, it will open the workspace file for you. If you later decide you don't want the workspace to open automatically, simply delete the shortcut from the XLStart folder.
Excel's workspace feature is one of those handy little innovations that can give productivity a big boost. What other tricks and strategies do you share with your students to help their work go more smoothly? Post your comments below or send usa note to share your favorite Excel efficiency tips.

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

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