I only use 5% features in MS Office. Why should I pay for the remaining 95%? (Part 2 of 2)

Please read the earlier post. This is a continuation post. It is not possible to recap the Part 1 article.

Why No examples or illustrations

A reader asked me this after reading the first article.

These two articles do not contain a single example, screen-shot or illustration. Those who read my articles and have seen my live sessions are fully aware that I am always showing demos and visuals.

I refrained from these things for two reasons:

  • Visuals are distracting when an important mindset level change is taking place
  • If you really want to see examples – you can pick any of my blog articles and judge for yourself.

Let Microsoft add more features. I don’t care

That is the attitude of most people. But I feel this is a counterproductive attitude. Let me explain.

Do you want to grow in your career?

I am sure it is a redundant question. I am assuming everyone will say YES to this.

If your answer is NO, then you don’t need to read the rest of the article. Because the concept of “value” is based upon some goal. If you don’t have a goal which involves improvement of your current status, then nothing will be perceived as valuable by you (in the context of MS Office).

If you work better, you will grow faster

Let us also agree on this obvious statement. I don’t think anyone doubts that.

In fact, we are already striving to work better every day – at individual or organizational level. In order to achieve this, we learn our subject better, attend training programs, benchmark our performance, perform process re-engineering, and many many other things.

At least 50% of your work requires MS Office

Of course the percentage may vary. But it is a significant portion of your day to day work… Include all tools – Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote (for those lucky ones who know about it. If you don’t know what is OneNote, read this post which I wrote earlier)

Anyway, you consider the percentage which is right in your context.

50% structured, 50% unstructured

Let us call your domain specific work as structured. As you studied your core subject, and gained experience in practicing it, you are obviously very good at it.

Moreover, there must be some business processes laid down to execute your work. There may be some automation or software already available to simplify and speed up your work. Needless to say, someone must be monitoring your core work – your KRAs, Balanced Scorecards, Deliverables and other matrices.

How about the remaining 50% work you perform using Office? Who is monitoring the exact process you are using? Forget about others, even you yourself have never tried to check if the methods I use to get my work done are the best / optimal methods.

In short, NOBODY cares about how they use Office
as long as work is done

This is a normal situation. But in fact, this is the root cause of drudgery, work-life imbalance, stress at work, poor or slow growth and a large number of related issues.

Why so? Because the situation is far from normal – it is absolutely abnormal.

It is statistically impossible to be efficient in using MS Office

If you have learnt Office by trial and error – which is true in most cases – then you have no choice. You must be inefficient! (Even if you did attend a course on MS Office, it did not cover all your work related activities – so this rule applies anyway!)

Have I gone mad? Not at all. I am not trying to scare or offend you. I am just telling you the truth.

Here is why …

  • As we know, Office has lots of features (many call it too bloated with features).
  • Due to this, the same activity can be performed in many different ways – still the end result is the same
  • Most of us learnt each activity by trial and error (or by asking someone – which includes a web search. If you find out how that person learnt – it is again trial and error)
  • For argument sake, let us consider that there are 4 possible ways to get one activity done (on an average. There are many things which can be done in 7 or 8 different ways)
  • Obviously, only ONE of these methods must be the best or most optimal method
  • Trial and error is a game of chance. The first method which works for you sticks with you life long – we actually call it comfort zone!
  • What are the chances of you finding the best way by chance? 25%
  • Now this was for ONE activity.
  • Usually we perform 100 to 200 different activities with Office. (Activity may mean simple things like File Open, Copy Paste or complex things like analyzing data)
  • So now what are the chances of you finding the best way – by trial and error – every time – for each of these activities?
  • You don’t have to be a statistician to know the answer – it is a very low chance.
  • That is why I said it is statistically impossible to be efficient

Let me complete that sentence now…

It is statistically impossible to be efficient unless you put effort.

Unfortunately, we have never put this effort in finding the best way of doing things.

The mismatch

Microsoft (or any vendor for that matter) assumes that everyone would like to get their work done in the best possible way – and therefore, they will be willing to discover, learn and benefit from the new / improved features which are constantly being added – that will make people grow faster and be more efficient.

However, from a user side, there is no desire, curiosity or interest in finding out whether there is a better way of doing our work – in spite of having the intense desire to grow in their careers.

This is the mismatch which is the root cause of apparently useless or irrelevant feature set of Office and ubiquitous, global inefficiency which is not even noticed as a problem.

Who is losing in the process?

Of course Microsoft is potentially losing revenue is due to widespread lack of awareness about the real power and benefits of Office. But let us focus on the user / customer level loss right now.

At a individual level, obviously each one of us is losing because we are wasting precious time and energy every day due to inefficient usage of Office tools.

Just to give you a tangible perspective – if you work for 1 hour using Office – any tool – any version – I can almost guarantee that at least 10 to 15 minutes of that effort was a complete waste!

In short, 10 to 25% of the time you spend using Office is a complete waste of your precious life!

I know it is a bold statement – but trust me – I am not talking random stuff. I am saying this after closely interacting with 195,000 users across 15 countries and diverse industries.

The above statement holds true irrespective of the version of Office you are using and the number of years of experience you have with it.

With due respect – there are many experts who are absolute masters in usage of Office. In fact, these people help Microsoft add more features!

Here I am talking about a regular business user whose job is to get the work done using Office. Their primary role in life is NOT to study and teach Office.

Experts are excluded from this statement with a rider. Usually people are experts at ONE product. They may be an absolute Guru in, say, PowerPoint – but they cant use Word formatting properly. Like any field, within Office as well there is severe compartmentalization.

Why nobody has talked about this issue before?

Good question.

As you know, I started my career as a doctor. ( for those who don’t know … I am a postgraduate in Gynecology. Moved to IT 23 years back and have not practiced medicine since then)

Here is how the spread of a disease described.
(These are just practical definitions. Not official definitions.)

  • few people have the disease in a small are – endemic
  • many people have the disease – epidemic
  • spreads across countries – pandemic

Let us say there is a pandemic. What does it mean? Does every living person have it? Obviously not. It is a very small subset but it has spread across geographies and spreading fast. That’s all it means.

But consider the inefficiency in the context of using MS Office – which is so ingrained into all of us for so many years. It is like everyone having the disease.

Now this is the funny thing about medicine. If few people suffer from something it is called a disease. But if almost everyone has the problem, then it is not called a disease – it is called NORMAL!

That is the real – root cause about Office underutilization.

Because almost everyone is inefficient, it is not even noticed as a problem. If you don’t notice it, you don’t act on it. That is the sad story.

Am I forgetting the original topic?

Don’t worry. I have not forgotten where we started. But all this detour is required to explain the problem, the psychology and the technology behind it.

Coming back to the features. Here is what happened.

MS created a great product on day 1 – they got more feature requests – they added those features – then they observed how people use the new product – they got more ideas – they added more features – in the meantime more feature requests came – and the cycle continues … even today – after 25 years. I am sure MS is working on at least 2 or 3 future editions of Office as we speak!

If nothing else, why don you consider appreciating Microsoft for the phenomenal (and often thankless) effort it has put in to create and refine a product over 25 years.

So let us see the steps

Some need or problem leads to creation of a feature. Microsoft knows why the feature was created. But do we (as unsuspecting users) know what it was created for?

Obviously not – because we are not even attempting to look at it. We have closed our eyes to it.

Why Microsoft cannot tell us how to use Office?

This is a common complaint. Here are the facts.

Office.microsoft.com has huge amount of information including online help, in-depth articles, videos, training materials, quiz contests and so on. Hardly anyone goes there unless there is a problem Sad smile

Offline help is also brilliantly written. But try to remember when was it that you pressed the F1 key last time? If you did press it – was it for troubleshooting or for learning?

Web search on Office Tips yields some 112 million results on Bing and 1.1 BILLION results on Google! Most of these are free. Amazon lists 25,424 books under Microsoft Office alone.

In spite of such widespread availability of knowledge sources, people at large are absolutely inefficient.

What does that mean?

  1. These sources are useless
  2. Nobody is reading them!

People do go and read these things but ONLY WHEN THEY HAVE A PROBLEM.

When I don’t know how to do something – I find it and use that method. Fine. Nothing wrong with it.

But what people don’t realize is that whatever they think they already know is itself inefficient!

That is why so much knowledge is ineffective. It is a psychological problem. Not a technological or content limitation.

We don’t want to know more about it – I call it Active Ignorance!

What can we do differently?

Everything I have been talking about is depressing and pitiable. But that is for a reason. There is a positive side to it. And it is simpler than you think.

Till now we were ignoring everything other than what we knew.

Now you have to simply assume that what you don’t know may be useful to you.

The only way to find out is to reverse the process – look at the features and think what could be the need or problem this feature is solving…

Then ask yourself – do I have this need? If the answer is YES, you benefited from it – your efficiency increased.

If you don’t have the need, never mind. Forget it.

What % features I really need?

Most of us think – “I know 5% and another few % more will make me more efficient”

The real answer is that – potentially as much as 60 to 70 % of feature set is absolutely relevant to you. The relevance may not be immediately obvious – it requires some applied learning. But that is the kind of number we should be looking at as optimal.

Which features I need?

As a simple answer – if the button is in the RIBBON you almost definitely need it.

Putting it all together

I know this has been a long (and possibly confusing) post.

Here is the culmination of all the detours.

  • Every feature has a purpose and it is created to solve a problem or cater to a need
  • Discovering your needs behind every feature is called an Efficient Mindset
  • None of us have realized that the way we usually utilize MS Office is absolutely suboptimal and inefficient
  • Now that I have told you this, it is in your interest to audit your own work methodology and find optimal methods
  • You want to grow in your career as fast as possible
  • Therefore, anything which comes in the way of that must be eliminated and corrected
  • Whatever may be your field, you must use Office for a significant portion of your work
  • If you work on Office inefficiently – it is actively slowing down your growth
  • The reverse is also true – if you know how to utilize Office to your advantage, it is a catalyst for your growth
  • Therefore, you must explore every feature and optimize your work methodology
  • The same concept applies at organizational level itself
  • Once you start this exercise you will realize that Office is not a random collection of unwanted features but a logical and intuitive toolkit which can drive your personal growth
  • Today we purchase Office at full cost but use only 1 or 2% of features therefore the ROI is poor and the perceived value (impact on efficiency) is dismal
  • Once you start using it proactively, you will get phenomenal improvement in efficiency in a very short time
  • In my experience, effective usage of Office leads to a break even within 2 months!


Office is a great product and has the potential to help you grow faster than you ever imagined.

The sad part

  1. We don’t know how inefficient we are
  2. We have no idea how powerful Office can be if used optimally

I suggest you explore Office with some genuine curiosity and effort for a few days, check if it makes a difference to your work efficiency and effectiveness and then you will be in a better position to answer the question.

In short, find out a little about what that 95% is and then decide whether it is worth paying for it.

Some real life evidence

I worked with the sales and merchandizing team of an apparel manufacturer recently. 50 participants – 3 days of work. During this process, each person showed me how they use MS Office for their day to day activities and I showed them a better, faster, optimal method.

It is a kind of Instant BPR or Efficiency Makeover session.

Based upon user inputs, we documented the before – after time taken and additional benefits.

The result? I could show them a
yearly time saving of 8000+ person days!

Mind you, no automation  – no macros – no LOB integration. Pure, simple effective usage of MS Office features. That is the real power.

If you don’t agree with me…

I will suggest a small exercise. In this blog alone, I have written 80+ articles. Go through some of them and see for yourself. Let me know your thoughts.

Your comments, suggestions, queries and experiences are welcome.

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