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Microsoft apps: Lists vs Excel


If you struggle with organising your data and tasks effectively, you are likely familiar with the anxious feeling of frantically searching for the information you need at the time you need it . Often spreadsheets can become overloaded with information and it becomes difficult to arrange and extract the parts you require. Thankfully, Microsoft have developed a solution to the chaos of unorganised spreadsheets in an easy-to-use, visually appealing solution, providing structure to your data management.

Microsoft Excel has undoubtedly been one of the most popular Office applications. Many organisations have at least some spreadsheets and these are usually created in Excel. However, not all spreadsheets are utilising the more advanced features Excel has to offer. Some are just very simple lists of data. If that’s how you are using Excel, then there may be a better alternative…

Lists is an app within Microsoft 365 that does exactly what it says on the tin. You can create defined column headings and then just populate rows of data. There are cloud, desktop, and smartphone/tablet app versions available, and conveniently you can create lists directly in your SharePoint sites.

Read James' Testimonial

“I used to be a very prolific Excel user in the past and had several spreadsheets for various aspects of my job. But once I was introduced to Lists, I very quickly converted all those spreadsheets and have never looked back. 

I fully understand that for some teams/users, Excel is the right choice, finance teams for example. But if you are just using spreadsheets to keep basic rows of data then Lists is for you. Here are my top 5 reasons to switch: 

Visually clearer and dynamic with less effort

I could not tell you how many hours I used to spend trying to make my spreadsheets look good! Merging cells, cell shading, and embedding charts and images, the list (no pun intended) goes on. Microsoft Lists, however, has a much cleaner appearance, whilst still having some out of the box dynamic content. For example, if you add a ‘People’ column it pulls in their 365 profiles to display their name and photo. There are options to format the appearance of list content but there is no need to go overboard as I’ll explain next.

Power BI

Power BI allows you to create engaging and interactive reports and dashboards from a variety of data sources. Although both Excel and Lists are two of those data sources, Lists in my opinion works better. Power BI requires clearly defined column headings with rows of data, which is exactly the way Lists works. Excel is fine if it is set up in the same way, but most Excel spreadsheets are not kept that simple. Instead of trying to get too creative in the data source, you input basic data and create all the visuals you require in Power BI.

Multiple column data types

Excel has a limited number of Data Types, mostly geared around numbers. Lists has 15, including People, Locations, Task Outcomes, and Metadata. This also gives you excellent data validation, ensuring accuracy and consistency across your list. 

Conditional formatting and basic formulas are still possible

Formatting is available directly in the list and is very quick and easy to do. Formulas can be input in List settings which then changes the column to a calculated one and is locked as read only. I will concede that formulas in Lists are not as intuitive as Excel, but if you only require basic ones such as IF statements, then it’s more than suitable. 

Custom views

You can create different views which can display the data as a List, Calendar, Gallery, or Board. Columns can be added or removed depending on what information you would like to see. This allows users and groups to have views specific to them.

If you are an Excel user and haven’t tried Lists yet, then I encourage you to take a look. As I said at the start, it may not have all the Excel functionality that you require, but for some of you, it could completely change the way you work.” 


~ James McDowall is Alberon’s Senior Microsoft Consultant and advises clients on the best use of Microsoft tools including Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Power BI. If you’d like to know more about Microsoft services and the best options for you, contact us today and we will be happy to help!

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