The word 'spreadsheet' came to prominence in the 1980s alongside other technological terms of the day like database and Rubik's cube, but spreadsheets were around long before the electronic wizardry of Excel made our lives easier. The compound word spread-sheet refers to the pages in a ledger where columns and rows are spread across both pages and they have been in use for hundreds of years.

In the early 1960s the development of the first computerised spreadsheet applications for business accounting took place, but a huge milestone was reached in the mid eighties when Microsoft introduced Excel, originally for the 512K Apple Mac. It came with many new features, including pull-down menus and the capability to point and click using the mouse. There have been many improvements in Excel since those early days, but basically it does the same job as those old paper spreadsheets, only a lot more efficiently. And here are some things that could not be performed on a paper version.

It may be that you need to draw attention to a certain cell on your worksheet. You could simply use a different coloured font or fill the cell with colour, but if you really want a cell to say 'me, me me' like the greediest chick in the nest, then a flashing cell is what you need. It is quite a complicated process to get a cell to flash, but well worth the effort.

To create a flashing cell you must first design a special style for the blinking cells and then run a simple macro.

If you are using Excel 2007 you can create a special style as follows:

Select the cell that you want to blink and be sure that the Home tab is displayed on the ribbon. In the Styles group, click on Cell Styles and you will see a drop-down selection of pre-defined styles. Click New Cell Style and you will see the Style dialog box. Then use the controls in the dialog box to change the attributes for the style and click OK.

If you are using a pre-2007 version of Excel, follow these steps instead:

Select the cell that you want to blink and choose Style from the Format menu. This will display the Style dialog box. In the Style Name box, enter a new style name (Blink, for example). Then use the controls in the dialog box to modify any attributes for the style and click on OK.

You can now apply the style to other cells in your workbook. Now create these two macros, one to start the flashing and the other to stop it:

Dim NextTime As Date

Sub StartFlash()
NextTime = Now + TimeValue("00:00:01")
With ActiveWorkbook.Styles("Flashing").Font
If .ColorIndex = xlAutomatic Then .ColorIndex = 3
.ColorIndex = 5 - .ColorIndex
End With
Application.OnTime NextTime, "StartFlash"
End Sub

Sub StopFlash()
Application.OnTime NextTime, "StartFlash", schedule:=False
ActiveWorkbook.Styles("Flashing").Font.ColorIndex = xlAutomatic
End Sub

To get your cells to blink, simply run the StartFlash macro. Those cells formatted with the Flashing style will start to flash. When you want to turn the flashing off, simply run the StopFlash macro.

And there it is, a blinking good tip. There are many more like it just waiting to be discovered on an Excel training course. After all, it is a lot easier than using a pen and paper.