Speed Loop 1: Invest Time

To work fast in Excel, you need two things: process and skills. Having one without the other means you may not be maximizing efficiency. By process, I mean the overall framework, strategy, or approach you use to optimize your workbooks. By skills, I mean Excel skills like XLOOKUP, SUMIFS, PivotTables, and Power Query. Both process and skills are needed to maximize efficiency.

This is the first post in a series that discusses the Speed Loop process. This is the same process that enabled me to reduce a 2-week per month project down to 2-days per month. I hope it can help you save time as well.


I use an investor metaphor to teach the Speed Loop.

An investor wants to make a wise financial investment in assets that appreciate in value over time. The investor wants to have a positive return on investment and ultimately realize a financial gain.

The same goes for us. Instead of investing money we are investing time. Our assets are our workbooks. And, we want to save more time than we invest.

The Speed Loop process follows the same path:

  1. Invest Time
  2. Appreciate Assets
  3. Realize Gain

Each of the three stages has multiple steps, and I’ve created this visual representation:


In this post, we’ll dig into the first stage: Invest Time.

Stage 1: Invest Time

Overall, the goal here is to invest wisely. This means spending time where we will be able to see a return. That is, save more time than we invest.

There are two steps:

  • Identify
  • Insert

Let’s talk about each step.


They key idea here is to identify your recurring-project workbooks. That is, the workbooks that support a project you do over and over … every day, week, month, quarter, or year.

It is only in these types of recurring-use workbooks where we have any chance of recovering our time investment. If we can make the workbooks faster to update each period, then each subsequent period we will have saved that much time … over and over again.

In this step, you want to think about one project that you do on a recurring basis. Then, identify the workbooks that support it. Locate the actual workbooks you update each period when doing the project. Perhaps your project is closing the books each month, or running payroll every two weeks, or updating the forecast each quarter.

You want to organize the workbooks related to that project. If possible, it would be great to store them all in a single folder. If that isn’t possible, you at least want to make them quick and easy to access … perhaps by using links (hyperlinks in an Excel workbook or even links in your file manager).

Once you have identified and organized the recurring-use workbooks, it is time to move to the next step.


This step is all about preparing the workbooks for the loop. To do this, we need to insert lead sheets. Lead sheets aren’t any type of Excel thing, they are just a nickname I use. You can call these worksheets anything you want. They are administrative in nature. I like to place them first in the workbook (ie, lead sheets).

These sheets do things like store input values, document instructions for updates, define the data flow, document the data sources, provide hyperlinks to key worksheets or related workbooks/files, document assumptions, and so on. They are administrative in nature, and come before the “real” worksheets like your data and report sheets.

There is a good chance you are already using these types of sheets. And, depending on the complexity of the workbook and project, you may only need a few lead sheets … or, it may make sense to have many.

Regardless of the complexity of the workbook, I recommend having at least these three lead sheets:

  • Start Here
  • ErrorCk
  • Admin

Let’s talk about each briefly.

Start Here Sheet

You can name this sheet whatever you’d like. I just happen to call mine Start Here. It is the very first worksheet in all of my workbooks. I use it to store things like workbook purpose, input cells, instructions, and assumptions.

For example, I document the purpose … and it might look something like this:


I have input cells like this:


Instructions for manual tasks like this:


This instructions list is a key part of preparing the workbook for the loop.

You want to list each manual task you do to update the workbook each period. Write down the estimated amount of time each step takes. This will be very important when we enter the loop. This list of manual steps shows us exactly which things we are going to automate with Excel.

The idea here is that over time, we will be delegating each step to Excel … so that we don’t have to do them anymore. Noting the time each step currently takes will help us prioritize. Plus, it will provide us with the amount of time we have saved by using this process.

ErrorCk Sheet

The ErrorCk sheet helps detect potential errors. You want to set up as many tests as needed. Here’s an example of a test:


Admin Sheet

I use an admin sheet to just store administrative notes … perhaps just a list of changes and who requested them.

That completes the Invest Time stage (Identify recurring-project workbooks and Insert lead sheets).

Ready for Next Stage

We are now ready for the next stage. We’ll explore the Appreciate Assets stage in the next post … thanks!

Webinar Invitation

If you’d like to learn more, I offer a free webinar where I teach the Speed Loop. On the webinar, I share some files you can download including sample Start Here, ErrorCk, and Admin sheets. Plus, a free Speed Loop Implementation Guide PDF. To learn more or register:


Hope you get a chance to join me on the webinar!



Jeff Lenning

I love sharing the things I've learned about Excel, and I built Excel University to help me do that. My motto is: Learn Excel. Work Faster.

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  1. Jerry Cooper CMA on March 30, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Great post Jeff. I agree, having a “Start Here” or “Instruction” tab is key to making workbooks more understandable to others–as well as yourself. Data entry / Input worksheets help make the file more efficient to update. The less time you have to spend hunting for input cells on multiple tabs, the better. You’re not just giving great tips here, but a well-conceived process for making our repeat-use Excel files more “improvable” over time.

  2. Col Delane on March 30, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    Your process is similar to but far more structured than my approach.

    I have always had a ‘continuous improvement focus’ to everything I do so the workbooks used regularly get more scrutiny from this perspective, and, as you say, is where you’ll get recurring and cumulative gains.

    I am always looking for ways to make things faster, easier, less risky/more accurate (an accountant’s version of the Olympic motto!), so would subconsciously test my applications whenever using them.
    There are some great words attributed to General William H. Tunner, US Air Force, who was in charge of the Berlin Airlift in 1948:
    “There are two tests that this [process] must pass:
    1. Is there a faster way of doing it?
    2. Is there an even faster way of doing it?”

    In addition, by reading about and learning Excel stuff, I discover new features (functions, & things like Data Tables, Excel Tables, Goal Seek, Automatic subtotals, Grouping, etc.) and techniques – and then look at if and how they can be applied in my work for the better. (I once showed a colleague how to use Goal Seek instead of manually iterating input of values to get a desired result, and saved her an hour per day of time wasting!)

    If I noticed my staff labouring while using Excel to perform a regular task (e.g. monthly analysis, calc’s, etc.) and complaining about ‘not enough time’, I would challenge them to follow my approach – but also specifically to identify both the ‘pain points’ in the process (the parts that are fiddly, tricky, etc.) or those that are simple & repetitive (e.g. copy/paste same range each month). These are the primary targets for review and improvement/automation.

  3. Ralph on April 7, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Your process provides such great value! Thank you for thinking of the ways to make efficiency happen for more people! They have helped me to create improvements to my regular tasks!

    • Jeff Lenning on April 7, 2020 at 8:54 am

      Thanks Ralph, I really appreciate your kind note … and I’m happy to help!

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