Recovering Unsaved Excel Workbooks

By David Ringstrom, CPA

It's every spreadsheet user's worst nightmare – you've worked on a workbook for a period of time, and then accidentally close it without saving. Or the power goes out, or Excel crashes . . . the list of spreadsheet hazards goes on and on.
 
If you're using Excel 2010 or later, there's a pretty good chance you can mitigate much – but not all – of the risk related to unsaved workbooks. Regardless, in any version of Excel, you can raise the odds of having a recovered copy of your work available after a software crash.
 
As shown in Figure 1, Excel has long had an AutoRecover feature that's designed to help you recover unsaved workbooks should Excel crash. If any version of Excel crashes, you sometimes get the opportunity to recover at least some of your work from the Document Recovery pane in Figure 1. However, this feature is limited to spreadsheets that were open in Excel at the time the program or your computer crashed.
 
 
Figure 1: The Document Recovery pane appears automatically when warranted in all versions of Excel.
 
Although somewhat helpful, the Document Recovery feature doesn't protect workbooks you inadvertently closed without saving by clicking "no" on that eponymous "Do you want to save the changes you made?" prompt. However, in Excel 2010 and later, you have the ability to not only recover unsaved files, but sometimes recover a version of a file from a few minutes earlier. This is helpful when you make a blunder that you can't undo, or when you want to see how a workbook looked a few minutes earlier. To do so, choose File, Info, and then look for the Manage Versions button, as shown in Figure 2. If previous versions are shown, you can open these alongside the most current version of your workbook and copy and paste data between the workbooks as needed.
 
 
Figure 2: Excel 2010 and later offers the ability to access file versions that were inaccessible in Excel 2007 and earlier.
 
In any version of Excel, you should carry out the following steps to increase the odds of being able to recover unsaved work:

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