Excel: Can’t adjust column width: Troubleshooting steps

Spreadsheets are vastly useful, and with Excel’s protect feature, they’re more secure than ever. Despite this, it can sometimes be a little problematic. When cells are locked within a protected spreadsheet, you lose the ability to change them in certain ways. This was intended to prevent inadvertent and/or malicious changes to your work by other users. Fortunately, locks and protection can be turned off in most cases.

Attempting to adjust a locked cellUnlock the cell
Trying to auto-fit a merged cellManually adjust the cell

Please keep reading to learn more about locking and unlocking cells, merging cells, manually adjusting cell dimensions and enabling protection for your sheets.

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Unlocking cells to adjust column width in Excel

Step 1 – Select and interact with your target cell

  • Identify the locked cell you wish to modify and select it. Afterward, right click the cell to open the context menu.

Step 2 – Open the formatting options via the context menu

  • Find and click “Format cells” in the context menu. This produces a new window from which we may alter the cell’s formatting. Albeit more importantly, this window allows us to toggle lock our cells.

Step 3 – Uncheck the “Locked” box via the “Protection” tab

  • After opening the format window you’ll need to navigate to the protection tab via the bar at the top of the window. Alternatively, use ctrl+tab on windows to cycle tabs with your keyboard. After opening the protection tab ensure “Locked” is unticked.

Step 4 – Confirm your format changes

  • At the bottom of the window, you are able to select either “OK” or “Cancel.” Please select “OK” to confirm you changes and unlock your selected cell(s).

Locking cells after adjusting column width in Excel

Read before locking cells

  • Locking cells has no notable effects outside of protected sheets. Protected sheets are harder to modify as a means of preventing other users from inadvertently (or intentionally) tampering with your sheet/data.

How to lock a cell in Excel

  • To lock a cell repeat the process for unlocking a cell shown earlier- except this time, ensure the “Locked” box is ticked. You may now proceed to making your sheet a protected sheet
  • To protect a sheet, first locate and right click your sheet from the tab at the bottom of the window. You may now select “Protect Sheet…”


  • You will now have before you the protection configuration menu. While it is not required, we recommend you set a memorable password for unprotecting your sheet. Without a password anyone can simply unprotect your sheet and make changes freely again.
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Manually adjusting cell dimensions in Excel

How do I manually adjust cell dimensions in Excel

Manually adjusting a column’s width or height in Excel is quite simple and straightforward; Just click either side of your chosen column, hold to drag, and pull the column left or right. You will immediately notice the column’s dimensions shifting.

I’m not able to adjust cell dimension in Excel

  • As mentioned earlier in the blog, if you are unable to adjust your column’s width or height etc. manually, please consider checking if the sheet is protected and contains locked cells.
  • If locked cells are present within a protected sheet, you will find yourself unable to modify them until they are unlocked or the sheet is unprotected.
  • If you wish to unprotect a sheet you will have to have it’s password ready (unless a password was not set).
  • Protecting sheets is a security measure taken to ensure your spreadsheets are not tampered with, if the sheet is not your own, re-enable protection once you are done making your required changes to the sheet.

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Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell has been the Operations manager at telecoms and MSP Optionbox for more than 4 years. He has played a crucial role in the company, from marketing to helpdesk, and ensures that the IT requirements of over 300 clients are continuously met. With his innate passion for technology and troubleshooting and a particular interest in Apple products, Jack now delivers the most comprehensive tech guides to make your life easier. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn.

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