That Pivotal Moment



Of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.
Synonyms: central, crucial, vital, critical, focal, essential, key, decisive

There is no such thing as “the right time” when it comes to developing your talents in Excel. You are always on call as the swiss-army-knife of information. Today a financial analyst, tomorrow a visualization specialist… within each role you are consistently relied upon to evolve your talents at a moment’s notice. So, throw away your abacus because you’re about to learn one of the best tools for your arsenal.



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Let’s Get Pivotal, Pivotal!

  • Go to the Data worksheet and select a cell (A1) within your table object
  • Go to the Insert tab and select PivotTable
  • Within the Create PivotTable options dialog box
    • Select a table or range
      • Table/Range: tblData
    • Choose where you want the PivotTable report to be placed
        • New Worksheet

Before you start dragging and dropping, let’s first learn what goes on within each area.

Pivot Areas

Filters: Display information that meets a specified criteria

Columns: Display fields horizontally

Rows: Display fields vertically

Values: Summarize numeric or text information

You can control the visibility of the PivotTable Fields sidebar by selecting your PivotTable and going to the Analyze tab on your ribbon. From there you can select or deselect the Field List button.

Watch Then Learn

Ask the Question:

“What are the total sales by name and date?”

Make It:
  • Drag the Name field into the Rows area
  • Drag the Date field into Rows area positioned beneath Name
    • Rows and columns within a lower position are nested within the area immediately above
  • Drag the Sales field into the Values area
Describe It:

You’ve completely bypassed multiple SUM or SUMIFS functions in order to get total sales figures using the Name and Date fields.

Ask the Next Question:

“What are the total sales counts by name and date?”

Make It:
  • Once again, drag the Sales field into the Values area beneath Sum of Sales
  • Select Sum of Sales2 to display the options and select Value Field Settings…
  • Within the Summarize Values By tab, select the Count option and then OK
Describe It:

You’ve completely bypassed multiple COUNT or COUNTIFS functions in order to get total sales figures using the Name and Date fields.

And The Next Question:

“What are the total sales figures by item?”

Make It:
  • Drag the Item field into the Columns area positioned above the Values field
Describe It:
  • The count will now appear adjacent to each Items Sum of Sales total, if you were to position the Item field beneath Values, the items would be placed to the right of all Sum of Sales totals.

You’ve just made a PivotTable by simply dragging and dropping. In many respects, you might be considered an advanced Excel user by possessing this ability alone. But my mission isn’t to make you good at Excel; it’s to make you great at it. As an Excel developer, being as efficient and effective as possible in delivering interactive solutions to your end users will make you streets ahead.


There will be a TON of information to juggle as we head into the more advanced concepts. Slow down and take one thing at a time as you work through each section.

Column Naming

Change Sum of Sales to: “Sales “

  • Because the field Sales already exists, you can add an additional space after the field name to create a common workaround

Change Count of Sales2 to: “Item Count

  • Because the field Item Count does not already exist, you can create a custom name

PivotTable Options

Right click the PivotTable and select PivotTable Options…

Tab: Layout & Format

  • Autofit column widths on update: Deselect
  • For empty cells show: 0 (Zero)

Tab: Display

  • Field List: Sort A to Z

Tab: Data

  • Number of items to retain per field: None
    • This is an interesting option, if you were to leave as automatic, because as data is removed from your record source the PivotTable would treat the deleted information as if it still exists. There may be some professions where this is necessary, but I’m estimating that is only about 1% of Excel users. For the majority of us, we want information to correlate so we can validate it at a moments notice in the event of discrepancies.

Date Fields

Right click a date record within the PivotTable and select Group…

  • By: Days, Months, Years

Right click a month record within the PivotTable and select the following:

  • Subtotal “Months”
  • Expand/Collapse: Collapse Entire Field

Right click a year record within the PivotTable and select the following:

  • Subtotal “Years”

For Excel 2016 users, the Microsoft Office team has made time grouping automatic.


Select the PivotTable and go to the Analyze tab

  • Select: Insert Slicer
  • Select: Name & State
  • Right click the Name Slicer and select: Slicer Settings…
    • Select: Hide items with no data
See the Difference of No Data:

Select “Brian” within the Name slicer and you will notice all States are still visible except for those without values, which are now greyed out. Clear the Name slicer and now select the state “AR” within the State slicer, you will notice that only the names “Brett” and “Ralph” appear within the Name slicer now.


For Excel 2013 users and beyond…

Select the PivotTable and go to the Analyze tab

  • Select: Insert Timeline
  • Select: Date
Opinion on Time Level

While I think the Timeline slicer is a great addition to Excel 2013 and on, I rarely use it because it restricts editing and disables its best assetthe Time Level selector whenever the worksheet is protected. The only workarounds that I have found thus far are to create four separate slicers.


Do me a favor and rock the vote for time level to be fixed.

Refresh Data

Select The PivotTable, right click and select: Refresh


Go to the Data tab

  • Select: Refresh All

Last but certainly not least, when it comes to working with a PivotTable, refresh your worksheet objects to ensure new records are added and obsolete information is removed.

“We didn’t wait for Excel before we went to the moon.”

-Oz D Du Soleil

There are certain moments in working with Excel where your major breakthroughs happen not because something was challenging but because it was so incredibly simple all this time. The PivotTable is EXACTLY that: an easy-to-start tool that is also incredibly powerful for seasoned developers. Don’t wait to start trying out some of Excel’s most robust features (Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View), because in the age of big data the time is NOW for you to make your presence known and become the office professional you were meant to be….

The Excel Girl | The Excel Guy

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