Understanding the Undo option in Excel
By David H. Ringstrom
One of my favorite features in Excel is the Undo feature, which as you might expect, allows you to undo the last action that you carried out in Excel. Indeed, you can generally undo multiple steps in Excel. However, there are some caveats to this functionality, as well as a couple tricks you may not know.
The keyboard shortcut that I use most often in Excel is Ctrl-Z, which is the shortcut for Undo. I can press it repeatedly to undo several actions. In Excel version 2003 or earlier, I can undo up to the last 16 steps that I've carried out. This list of 16 steps is known as the Undo Stack. However, when I'm using Excel 2007 or 2010, I have a much larger Undo Stack available to me: I can undo dozens of recent actions.
Excel 2003 and earlier versions also have another key restriction related to the Undo feature. When you save your workbook in these versions of Excel, the Undo Stack is erased, meaning you lose the ability to undo any actions you carried out prior to saving. Excel 2007 and 2010 don't have this limitation, which means you can save your workbook, and then still undo previous actions.
Many users rely on the Undo button on the Excel 2003 toolbar, or the Excel 2007/2010 Quick Access toolbar. However, a lot of users don't realize that the Undo button has a drop-down menu, as shown in Figure 1. When you click the menu, you can undo multiple actions at once by selecting a group of items from the list. You are, however, limited to choosing a consecutive list of items from the top down, and you can't skip items in between. However, this also allows you to see exactly what actions will be undone.
Figure 1: You can select multiple steps to Undo.
Keep in mind that in all versions of Excel there are certain actions that will clear the Undo stack. As previously mentioned, saving a workbook in Excel 2003 and earlier will clear the Undo Stack. In any version of Excel, the Undo Stack will be erased if you delete a worksheet from a workbook, or run a macro. Always be sure to save your work before you carry out either of these actions if you want to preserve a fall-back position in case you encounter unexpected ramifications.
A sister function to Undo is Redo, which has a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl-Y. The Redo toolbar button has a drop-down menu just like Undo. In fact, you can undo, and then redo, one or more actions. When necessary, this allows you to roll back the spreadsheet to how it looked a few steps prior, and then roll it forward to your latest update.
David Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm. Contact David at email@example.com.
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