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TECHNOLOGY Q&A

Lost Excel file

 

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
November 2012

Q: Help! I was working in Excel 2010 on an important file for several hours when the unthinkable happened. I meant to close a single workbook, but I accidentally closed all of my workbooks without saving. Hoping that there was an undo feature to recover the file, I selected File, Recent, Recover Unsaved Workbooks, but the file with my changes was not there. I checked to make sure that my AutoRecover and AutoSave options were properly enabled (and set to save my file every 10 minutes) and they were, so I don’t understand why a copy of the file with my changes was not saved. Can you explain what went wrong so this doesn’t happen again?

A: The backup file you wanted was there (assuming you did not disable Excel’s AutoRecover and AutoSave functionality), but you looked in the wrong place. Instead of searching under Recover Unsaved Workbooks, you should have searched under Manage Versions. Excel’s AutoRecover and AutoSave options are often misunderstood, and they work differently depending on whether you are working in a newly created workbook that never has been saved as opposed to a previously created workbook that has been updated, but not resaved. Here’s what you need to know about these tools:

AutoSave. The AutoSave tool saves new files that have been created but never saved (e.g., you close the file without saving or the power goes out). To access AutoSaved files, select File, Recent, Recover Unsaved Workbooks, and double-click to open the desired file.

AutoRecover. The AutoRecover tool saves files in two ways. First, AutoRecover saves versions of the current file as you work (at intervals you specify, with 10 minutes being the default interval). This enables you to revert to any prior version of the workbook. To access AutoRecovered file versions, from the File tab, select Info. Next, look beside the Manage Versions button for a list of the AutoRecovered versions of the document, an example of which is pictured below.

AutoRecover saves at regular intervals, but only if changes have been made between intervals. Therefore, (assuming 10-minute save intervals) a workbook that has been open for one hour might have six AutoRecovered versions, but only if you edited the document every 10 minutes. Otherwise, there will be fewer AutoRecovered versions (which explains why the image below the previous paragraph does not display AutoRecovered versions at regular intervals).

Second, AutoRecover also saves a version of the workbook that you previously created, reopened, and updated, but did not resave. When this happens, reopen the old version of the workbook file, and this older version automatically will include any newer unsaved versions of the workbook file. To view a newer, unsaved version of the workbook file, select File, Info, then look beside the Manage Versions button for a list of the AutoRecovered versions of the document with the phrase (when I closed without saving) next to each version’s date and time, as pictured below.

Launching these versions opens a snapshot of the workbook as it appeared at that particular date and time according to your AutoRecover settings, even if you failed to properly save the workbook when you closed it (this is the solution that applies to your situation). To revert to the newer, unsaved version of the workbook file, click the Restore button located in the Recovered Unsaved File box at the top of the workbook, as pictured below.

 

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