Displaying an Input Format in a Cell

Greg uses Excel to calculate time which means he has a lot of formatted cells that look like this: Mar 10 15:00. People who use his worksheet constantly seem to enter time in a format other than his preferred format. For instance, they leave out the colon or the month and wonder why it won’t calculate correctly. Greg has seen other Excel worksheets where the preferred format is “pre-entered” in each applicable cell for the user in a grayed-out form, such as: mmm dd hh:mm. Greg wonders how to do that with Excel.

There is no simple, easy way to do anything like this in Excel. The closest thing we’ve seen is the input mask feature available in Access, but not in Excel. It is possible that what Greg saw in other Excel worksheets was due to some add-in on that system or some set of complex macros that handled the display.

It is best to remember that the formatting of a cell is for display only, it does not affect the value of the cell itself. If the user does not enter a valid date and time or it is an incomplete date and time the value stored in the cell will be incorrect. Pre-entering the preferred date format into the cell will not prevent them from using other formats.

You could, if desired go the simple route and simply add comments to the input cells. The comments could explain the input format and even the importance of using the correct format. People would, of course, be able to ignore the comments completely.

If this is a problem, one thing you could attempt is to “pre-enter” text displaying the desired format (“mmm dd hh:mm”) and use conditional formatting to make the text gray when the cell has that particular text or make the explicit formatting gray and then conditional format it black when the cell is anything other than the example text. But that will not prevent the user from entering a date and time using a different format or misentering the values (by not including a needed piece of information).

Simple Excel pulldowns can be used to allow the user to select month, day, year, hour, and minute in separate cells and then use a formula to pull it together. You could even use more complicated means of data validation to ensure data is being entered in an acceptable manner, but a date and time are still numbers so checking the validity becomes difficult. Allowing easier entry is possible and some possible tips in doing things can be found at these pages:


There are various “date picker” and “time picker” add-ins that people have created in Excel (some customizeable, others not) that can be googled and tested or a custom one created in VBA.