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Insert a Timestamp in Excel

A few years back when I was working for a tech company I was one of those people who were Excel help point for all.

And, that’s the real reason I'm fascinated to learn more.

One day the lady who was working as a reception coordinator came to me and asked:

“Puneet, I’m managing a list of tasks and I want to add date and time in the corresponding cell on completion of each task. Which is the best way?”

And, quickly I realized that she was talking about a timestamp. I’m sure you also use it while working in Excel.

In general, it contains the current date and time, and we use it to capture completing time of a task.

Now, the thing is: Which is the best way to insert a timestamp in Excel?

So here, in this post, you’ll learn how to create a timestamp in Excel using 5 different ways and we will try to figure out this is the best out of all.

So let’s get started.

1. Using a Keyboard Shortcut to Insert a Timestamp

It’s a combo shortcut.

There are two different shortcuts to insert a date and a time. And, here we need to use both of them subsequently.

Here are the steps:

insert a timestamp in excel using a shortcut key
  • First of all, select the cell where you need to insert a timestamp.
  • After that, use shortcut key Control + : (Press and hold control and then press colon). Once you press this, it will insert the current date (according to your system) in the cell.
  • At this time, your cell is in edit mode.
  • Now, press Control + Shift + : (Press and hold control and shift key and then press colon).
  • Your cell is still in edit mode, now press the enter key to complete the entry.

In short, you need to press two shortcuts in sequence to insert this. And, if you want to add only one thing out date and time, just skip the shortcut key that.

PROs

  • If you want to save time and have fewer cells, this method is perfect.
  • When you enter both date and time, Excel automatically picks the right format to display it.

CONs

  • This is not a dynamic method, you have a static timestamp. And if you want to update the time stamp you need to enter it again.
  • You need to press two different shortcut keys to enter it.

2. Insert a Timestamp with NOW Function

A simple dynamic method.

If you want to use a formula to insert a timestamp, the perfect way is to use NOW function.

When you enter this function in a cell it returns current date and time according to your system’s settings.

The default format of date and time return by NOW is mm/dd/yyyy hh:mm. But for some reason if you want a custom format, you change its format using custom format option.

Select the cell -> Press shortcut key control + 1 -> Select “Custom” -> Enter “mm/dd/yyyy hh:mm” in input box -> Click OK.

And, if you want to enter only date then you can use TODAY function instead of NOW. Today function return only current date according to system’s settings.

insert a timestamp in excel with today

PROs

  • It’s a dynamic method.
  • You can use both of the functions with a IF function to create a condition to enter a timestamp is another cell has a value.

CONs

  • Even it’s a dynamic method but as both of the functions are volatile they will get update every time when you make changes in your worksheet.
  • And, if you just want values instead of formulas you need to convert it into values manually.

3. Using Circular Reference for Creating a Timestamp

A killer idea.

If you want to get into an advanced method and don’t want to use method #1 and #2 then you can use circular reference to insert a timestamp.

But before you learn this method let’s understand what actually circular reference is all about.

Let’s say you have value 5 in cell A1 and value 10 in cell B1. Now if you enter a formula =A1+B1+C1 in cell C1, it will return a message circular reference error.

insert a timestamp in excel with circular reference

This is because you are using cell C1 as reference in the cell C1.

When circular reference error happens, there is a non-ending loop in the cell. Like: reference in cell A3 is dependent on the value of cell A3 and value of A3 is dependent on reference to cell A3.

insert a timestamp in excel with circular reference loop

But when a circular reference is entered, Excel don’t calculate it and the non-ending loop never start.

Here’s the deal:

You can enable “iterative calculation option” to force Excel to preform the calculation at least for one time and use NOW function in the calculation.

This way Excel will update the cell formula only for one time instead of every time.

Steps to enable iterative calculation option:

  • Go to File –> Options.
  • In the Excel options, select Formulas.
  • In the Calculated options, check the Enable iterative calculation option.
  • Click OK.
insert a timestamp in excel with circular reference activate iteration

After that in the cell B2, enter below formula:

=IF(A2<>"",IF(B2<>"",B2,NOW()),"")

insert a timestamp in excel with circular reference enter formula

Now when you enter any value in cell A2 the formula in cell B2 will return a timestamp.

insert a timestamp in excel with circular reference enter value

4. VBA to Add a Timestamp

A simple and sweet way.

If you are a VBA freak then I’m sure you’ll find this VBA code useful. With this, you don’t need to enter a formula or even not to use any shortcut key.

Just select the cell where you need to enter a time stamp and run the macro.

Sub timeStamp()
Dim ts As Date
With Selection
.Value = Now
.NumberFormat = "m/d/yyyy h:mm:ss AM/PM"
End With
End Sub

How to use this code

To use this code you can add it on QAT (quick access toolbar) and run ever time whenever you need to add a timestamp.

Here are the steps:

  • Add this code in module by opening VBA editor.
  • After that, go to File -> Options -> Quick Access Toolbar.
  • Choose “Macros” from “Choose Command from” drop down.
  • After that, add timeStamp macro to QAT.
  • Now select that macro click modify button.
  • Select an icon and click OK.

Now you have a icon on QAT and whenever you need a timestamp you can select the cell and click this button to insert it.

4.1 Using UDF for Timestamp

Yes, you can also create a UDF for inserting a timestamp in Excel. Below is the code for this UDF.

Function Timestamp(Reference As Range)
If Reference.Value <> "" Then
Timestamp = Format(Now, "dd-mm-yyy hh:mm:ss")
Else
Timestamp = ""
End If
End Function

By using this user defined function you can get a timestamp in a cell if another has a value in it.

Please follow below steps:

  • Go to Developer tab and open VBA editor.
  • In VBA editor, insert a new module and paste this code into it.
  • Now, close VBA editor and come back to your worksheet.
  • In the cell B2, enter below formula.
insert a timestamp in excel vba function
  • Now, when you enter any value in cell A1, cell B1 will get a timestamp.

Conclusion

Adding a timestamp is something we often do while working in Excel. And, you have 5 different methods to insert it.

If you ask me I love to use VBA button on QAT for this. The best way is to add this code in a personal macro workbook so that you can use it in all the workbooks.

This is the whole story about a timestamp and I’m sure you found it useful.

😃

Now tell me one thing. Do you know any other method to for this? Please share with me in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you.

And, please don’t forget to share this tip with your friends.

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