How to Maximize Excel's Recent Items Menu

By David Ringstrom, CPA
Depending upon your version of Excel, the Recent list on the File menu can streamline access to both files and folders. If you work on numerous spreadsheets, this list offers marginal value in Excel 2003 and earlier. The list gained some new functionality in Excel 2007, reached its zenith in Excel 2010, and fell back somewhat in Excel 2013. This list provides one-click access to between 4 and 25 files (and sometimes folders). As you'll see in this article, each version of Excel offers markedly different functionality with regard to accessing recent spreadsheets.
Excel 2013
This version of Excel launches you into a gauntlet of screens in which you must navigate through to get to an Open dialog box; however, you can easily streamline access. To do so, choose File, Options, and then:
  • In the General section, disable Show the Start Screen When This Application Starts.
  • In the Save section, enable Don't Show the Backstage When Opening or Saving Files.
  • In the Advanced section: (1) change Show This Number of Recent Workbooks to 50 instead of 25; (2) enable Quickly Access This Number of Recent Workbooks; and (3) be cautious about changing the Show This Number of Unpinned Recent Folders much beyond 8, because incrementing this too high means you'll always have to scroll down to access the Browse button, which will impede access to your spreadsheets.
By changing the above options, when you launch Excel you'll be presented with a blank workbook instead of a Start screen, and the File menu will contain a list of the last few files you've opened. You can pin files or folders to their respective menus, which moves them to the top of the list. You can optionally right-click on a file or folder name and choose Remove From List when needed, or choose the Clear All Unpinned Items command.
Excel 2010
In my opinion, this version of Excel offers the best access to recent files and folders. When you click on File and then Recent, you're presented with a side-by-side Recent Workbooks and a Recent Folders lists. Excel 2007 only lists recent workbooks, and while in Excel 2013 these lists are bifurcated into separate screens. To maximize Excel 2010's Recent menu:
  • Click File, Recent, and then enable the Show This Number of Recent Workbooks checkbox at the bottom of the Recent menu. Increase the number of files until the Exit button on the File menu appears at the bottom of your screen. This allows you to access your most recent files without choosing the Recent menu. The number of files will vary based on your screen resolution.
  • Click File, Options, and then in the Advanced section, change Show This Number of Recent Documents to 50.
As with Excel 2013, you move files or folders to the top of the list by clicking the corresponding pushpin. You can right-click on an unwanted file or folder and choose Remove From List or reset the entire list choosing Clear All Unpinned Items.
Excel 2007 
Excel 2007 offers more limited functionality with regard to accessing recent documents. Fortunately, a Recent Documents menu does appear when you click the Office button, which is an improvement over Excel 2003. However, you cannot remove individual files from this list  it's an all-or-nothing proposition. To maximize this list, click the Office button, choose Excel Options, and then in the Advanced section, change Show This Number of Recent Documents to 50 instead of 17. Unless your monitor is monstrous in size, you won't see 50 files, but the Recent Documents menu will extend down to the bottom of your screen. Change this setting to zero if you wish to clear the entire Recent Documents menu. 
You can pin items to the Recent Documents menu, but they don't move to the top. This means over time, pinned files may work their way to the bottom of the list, but they'll remain on the menu. You cannot pin or access folders from Excel 2007's Recent Documents list.
Excel 2003 and Earlier
The Recently Used File list in these versions is positively Spartan by comparison to Excel 2007 and later. You cannot remove individual files from the list, nor can you pin items to the menu. By default, the File menu displays your 4 most recent documents, but you can ratchet this up slightly to 9. To do so, choose Tools, Options, and then on the General tab, increase the Recently Used File List to 9 instead of 4. Change this setting to 0 if you wish to erase the entire list.
Read more articles by David Ringstrom. 
About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.


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