Recovering Unsaved Excel Workbooks

  • Excel 2010 and later: As shown in Figure 3, choose File, Options, Save, and then change the Save AutoRecover Information setting to every two minutes, down from the default of every ten minutes. 
  • Excel 2007: Click the Office button, choose Excel Options, Save, and then change the Save AutoRecover Information setting to every two minutes, down from the default of every ten minutes. 
  • Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Tools, Options, click the Save tab, and then change the Save AutoRecover Information setting to every two minutes, down from the default of every ten minutes. 
Bear in mind that Excel won't necessarily save your work every two minutes, as illustrated with the difference in times shown in Figure 2. Although I haven't studied it at length, my casual observation is that Excel saves temporary versions on a somewhat random basis, but regardless, lowering the setting to every two minutes increases the potential frequency for new versions to be saved.
 
 
Figure 3: In any version of Excel you should change the AutoRecover frequency to every two minutes.
 
In any version of Excel, documents presented in the Document Recovery pane are typically deleted when you close the pane and answer "yes" to the prompt that you no longer need access to those files. In Excel 2010 and later, my casual observation is that unsaved versions appear to linger for three or four days and then are swept away.
 
In a Hail Mary situation, such as if the Document Recovery pane doesn't appear, or you're working in Excel 2007 and earlier and want to try to access a version from a few minutes earlier, it's worth a shot to use Windows Explorer to navigate to the folder listed in the AutoRecover File location. You might just get lucky and find an accessible version of your document. 
 
Although these features offer a modicum of safety against crashes, your best defense is to save frequently and to create multiple versions of your documents. Personally, I incorporate version numbers, such as 1.01, 1.02, and so on into some of my spreadsheet file names so I can go back in time when necessary.
 
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 david@acctadv.com 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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Excel spreadsheets are often akin to the American Wild West, where users can input anything they want into any worksheet cell. Excel's Data Validation feature allows you to restrict user inputs to selected choices, but there are many nuances to the feature that often trip users up.