Over the years, the automatic features of Excel that allow the user to enter predictive data without typing it in its entirety must have saved enough time to balance out the cigarette breaks of a heavy smoker over the course of a year. Data entry is not the most exciting of occupations and so any assistance that is geared towards cutting down on the amount of effort required should be taken up.

AutoComplete is particularly useful when typing often repeated data, such as the names of towns and cities from a certain area. The welcome sight of those names appearing automatically, after typing only one or more letters, saves an awful lot of keystrokes over the course of a working day. Its near neighbour, AutoFill makes light work of the laborious task of typing in days of the week or months of the year, as it fills in predictive text after only the slightest of prompts.

But not everything you type is covered by these automatic features. The date and time, for example, will not appear automatically when you type it in. Even though you may repeat the same date over and over, Excel will not take the hint and offer you an AutoComplete for it. But then it doesn't need to as there are ways to insert the date, or the time, or even both, without the hassle of keying in numbers and separating strokes.

The date shortcut is extremely useful as this is a commonly entered item in many worksheets. I remember back in the days when I was pretty much an Excel rookie, I had to log the details of new members of the video store I ran. Probably the biggest interruption to the flow of entering these details was switching from typing words to the rather disjointed typing of the numbers and strokes that made up that day's date. The store owner watched me for a while, and, seeing my discomfort every time I had to enter a date, he came to the rescue with the magic key that would allow me to enter today's date at a stroke, and it was as easy as selecting the desired cell and pressing Ctrl +;

I knew that this new shortcut would come in very handy as I logged details of new members and stock. It also whetted my appetite to seek out more shortcuts that could save me time. When the store was empty, I would experiment with Excel to see what other shortcuts were available. I discovered that by capping up the semicolon to a colon (Ctrl = Shift = ;) the time would appear in the cell. I'm not sure if I ever had cause to use this feature, but it was another string to my Excel bow.

As time went on I became more adept in the use of Excel, and I discovered a similar operation that comes in the form of a simple formula; that entering =NOW() into a cell will display both the date and time.

Back in those early days I was finding my feet with, if I remember rightly, Excel 97. Things have moved on quite a way since then and Excel is even more powerful. Yet no matter how up to date the version I use, had I not been shown that shortcut I would still be entering dates into Excel worksheets manually. The moral of the tale is simply this: more learning means more efficiency.