It is statistically impossible to be efficient using MS Office

 image Controversial title?
Absolutely not.
Read on to find out how real this problem is.And what to do about it.

Generic applicability

Whatever I am saying here applies to any feature rich product. I am focusing on Office because I work in that field. However, I am sure that experts who use other similar feature rich products like AutoCad, PhotoShop, After Effects and myriad of such applications will agree with my thought process.

Office is important because it is the most commonly used application in the world.

When did we learn Office?

It depends upon your age and when you were exposed to it first. In today’s world, kids get to learn Office in primary school. In older days, an new employee joining a job for the first time would get exposure to Office.

Think of when you first got the opportunity to use Office. Well, “opportunity” sounds like a big word. Let me rephrase that. When did you have to use Office for the first time?

Whatever time it was, one thing was for sure. Learning and exploring Office was not your primary goal. It just happened that you had to get some work done and you needed Office to get it done.

Keep that in mind and move on.

How did we learn Office?

We had a need, we did not know how to get it done, then we did something and found it out. What is that SOMETHING? It could be one of the following:

  1. Trial and Error
  2. Ask someone
  3. Search on web
  4. Read help
  5. Refer to books

Eventually we found the method which works. We then use that method lifelong.

Typically we perform anywhere between 100 to 500 activities using Office (including common and rare usage). Let us say, for argument sake, we use Office for 200 different activities.

Note I am not saying features here. Activities could mean replying to a mail, creating a resume, managing a meeting using calendar. Each activity could use one or more features.

Same activity, many methods

All of us know that there are lots of features in Office. The same end result can be achieved using different methods. Probably you have seen that in some cases. But we usually know only one method for one activity and we stick to it.

Consider a simple case of copy pasting a formula in a column of long numbers. There are many methods available – for example, Copy Paste, Drag and Double Click. You may know only one method and use it lifelong.

When you have one method which works, you never explore other methods – even if you may have a vague idea that there may be more. Why so? Because the work is getting done.


On an average most activities can be done in at least four different ways. I have not done formal research on this. But having worked with 219,000 + users globally, it is a fair estimate.

If you know multiple methods, which one will you use

The answer is obvious – the best / fastest / smartest one. That is good. In fact that leads us to the definition of Efficiency in the context of Office.

Every activity we perform must be done using the most effective method. Not ANY method which works.

25% chance?

As we discussed earlier, there are average four ways to get a job done using Office. You discovered one of them by chance. Therefore, you had 25% chance to find the best way by trial and error.

That sounds like a good deal. But it is not. This estimate is just for ONE activity.

For all activities the chance is near zero

We perform average of 250 activities. Now what is the probability of finding the best every time for 250 activities?

You don’t have to be a statistician to know this. It is very very low.

Another way of saying this is :

It is statistically impossible to be efficient
in using Microsoft Office!

I know you don’t like the thought. It is like saying that you are inefficient – irrespective of who you are, how experienced and senior you are, what your area of expertise is…

Well, I don’t like this implication either. But alas it is true. Don’t think that I am isolating myself from this issue. I am also included here.

The only thing I did differently is that I noticed this, cross checked it and told it to you.

So what is the point? Good news? Or Bad News?

The point is that it is a good news. Because we know that there is a problem. Let us understand the crux of it and try to solve it. Whatever the solution is, it is bound to increase our efficiency.

Adequacy Based Inertia to Learn

Office is not the core subject for most of us.

Therefore, we are happy about the skill set we have – as long as we know how to get the work done. All of us are aware that there are hundreds (actually thousands) of features available which we don’t know about. But we are not worried because we feel what I know is enough. Therefore, there is no inclination to explore more. This is what I call Adequacy Based Inertia to Learn. I don’t know if this thought process already has an established name in cognitive psychology. If you know one, do let me know!

Potential Solutions

The conceptual solution is embedded in the statement itself.

It is statistically impossible to be efficient in using Microsoft Office – if we continue to use the methods we know while assuming that it is the ONLY and the BEST way of getting things done.

The simplest solution – at least conceptually – is to inculcate this thought in the mind of all users – globally. Second step is to encourage everyone to cross check if the methods they use for EVERY activity using Office is efficient or not. If not, encourage them to find out a better way.

I know this is an uphill task. But the status quo is a guaranteed downhill path. So we have to wake up and take action. Lack of action is leading to immeasurable loss of human resources every day draining the economy globally as well as creating work / life imbalance for already stressed white collar workers.

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