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.

I only use 5% features in MS Office. Why should I pay for the remaining 95%? (Part 1 of 2)

This is a different type of article. It addresses the fundamental question about what value does Microsoft Office bring to the table – from the point of view of efficiency improvement.

Let me start with a disclaimer: everything written here are my own views and conclusions. This is not in anyway an official response from Microsoft or any other company or individual.

Common questions / concerns

This is a concern almost everyone who has purchased Office has in their mind. It is manifested in various ways…

  1. Why can’t Microsoft create a version with only few commonly used features and charge some very low amount for it (or preferably give it free)? There is actually a starter edition which displays advertisements which does this – available only in few countries. I don’t know if it is still available.
  2. Why does Microsoft keep on adding so many features when I don’t need those
  3. When I upgrade I am not going to use those new features – so why should I pay for upgrade?
  4. The current version I am using is Good Enough for me. I don’t want the new version.
  5. Often people also question the ROI of these investments… It is natural for a CFO to think / ask … “I have spent x amount of money in buying and upgrading Microsoft Office. But I have not seen a significant improvement in the efficiency .. at individual, departmental or organizational level. So why should I spend more money on the next upgrade?”
  6. Some people convince themselves by saying that “Newer versions of Office do not add any value or increase efficiency in a tangible way. Therefore, the conclusion is that the so called new features are practically useless”
  7. Yet another set of people just take the easy way out saying “Office is great… new features are great… but I / my organization does not need all these features.”

Where is the value?

In spite of having these concerns, there does not seem to be a clear answer available. There are some people who blindly upgrade to new versions, some who resist it, some who go to apparently equivalent products like LibreOffice, Google Office and so on.

As the value question remains largely unanswered, there could be two possible answers to it >>>

  1. There is no value in the new features and upgrades to Office or
  2. There is value in there, but in practice the value is not being accrued

How many features do we actually use?

If you count every button, option, function and so on… there are about 8000 features available across Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote. (8000 is an approximate number. But the real number is very near this value … probably higher but not lower.)

Most of us think that we use 5% of these features… that is about 400 of them. Unfortunately that is not true. In my experience, based upon interaction with over 195,000 users most of us use around 120 features. The so called power users use 200 on an average.

I have not done a formal survey for this. But you can think of the number yourself (don’t think of percentage. Think of the number) … and I am sure you will come up with a similar answer.

Why don’t we use the other features?

All of know that we use a very small fraction of available features. But we are not worried about it..

Why? Because we think something like this…

  1. What I know is enough… whatever else is there I don’t need it
  2. My field is <whatever> (finance, marketing, sales, etc…) … Therefore, my focus on my chosen field. I will study it deeper. I do use MS Office as a part of my job… but I already know how to get my work done using it. So whatever else is there is irrelevant to me. Why should I spend time in exploring / learning a subject which is not my core area?
  3. I only need to know the basics (which I already do). Everything else is too advanced for me. I don’t care what it is.
  4. There is another thought – may be everyone uses a small percentage of features… but the exact set of features everyone uses is different.
    Although this may be true to some extent, it does not explain the gross underutilization. But when it comes to MS Office who has given it a serious thought anyway? Nobody!

In short… the thought is

What I know is enough and what I don’t know is implicitly considered irrelevant and useless from my point of view.


Why does Microsoft keep adding so many features?

Most people ask this question out of irritation rather than adulation!

Hardly anyone is impressed with the incessant addition of new or improved features version after version for last 25 years.

Doesn’t Microsoft realize that there is gross underutilization of the product? I am sure that they know about it. Why am I so sure?

Because, like all software vendors, Microsoft also has a Customer Improvement Program. Periodically, statistics about feature usage are sent to Microsoft and analyzed by them.

I obviously don’t know the exact statistics. But it is fair to assume that they are aware of the underutilization.

The question is … why do they keep adding more and more features?

The answer is simpler than you think. Any technology or software never created as an academic exercise. It is created to cater to some need or to solve a problem someone is facing.

Therefore, by definition, any feature which you see in any software originates from a need or a problem. The solution may be available without the software – by doing some manual work – but the software feature is designed to take away that drudgery from the human side and simplify / eliminate or automate it.

In the same spirit, it is safe to assume that all these 8000 features must have originated with some user need, feature request, inefficiency which was noticed by someone and escalated to the product team … something like that.

Obviously, if I requested a feature from Microsoft and they added it, I would be very happy and use it actively. That is a no-brainer.

What about other people who did NOT ask for that feature? May be they have the same problem… but

How will they know about it?
How will they discover it?
Will they ever use it?

The answer – based upon my experience is – they will never know it existed and they will never use it!

In my opinion – this is the real problem.

Let me restate the problem.

As a typical user, I may have some problems… I have found out my own solution to it based upon a feature set I was aware of – at the point of time when I faced the issue… however, Microsoft may have provided a more effective, faster, more elegant solution to my problem – which I simply failed to notice – and therefore, I am going to use my self-discovered, not-so-efficient, solution – life long!

I feel very sad to say this… but that is the pitiable state of Microsoft Office.

Just try to imbibe the implications of what I just said. Keep the thought in mind. We will come back to it later…

Quick Exercise: Basic or Advanced

Most of us think that features which we are not using are ADVANCED.

Try to go through few of the last 10 articles I have written and ask yourself – were these topics basic or advanced…

For your convenience I am listing the last 10 articles here…

  1. Introducing PowerPivot – do you need it? : 9 Jan 14
  2. Using PowerPivot instead of VLOOKUP : 10 Jan 14
  3. Simple solution to an irritating problem: Copy pasting slides : 11 Jan 14
  4. Create complex tables in seconds : 12 Jan 14
  5. How to read a document containing highlights? : 13 Jan 14
  6. Writing articles? Get word count with CTRL ALT G : 14 Jan 14
  7. Try it now: International Phonetic Converter : 15 Jan 14
  8. Applied Art – Ripple effect in PowerPoint : 16 Jan 14
  9. Video Tutorial: How to show collaboration in PowerPoint (4 min) : 17 Jan 14
  10. Names and tech words shown as spelling mistakes! Here is the solution. : 18 Jan 14
  11. Learn a new language while you work using Word Mini Translator : 19 Jan 14

Go through these and think.. whether it is basic or advanced?

Post your comments here – article – basic or advanced.

I could have made a survey for this but it is cumbersome. Let us make it simple.

You can also add your comments on my Facebook group (Instant Efficiency) where this blog will be posted…

What next?

I will wait for the response from readers and then write the second part of this article in a few days…