Input Only Once

Human productivity thesis of the day: We should never input corroborated information more than once. If you need to plug the same numbers or text into different places, you are doing too much work (even with copy and paste). The human variable here expands the threshold for error to an unacceptable degree. Systems should be in place to automatically pull that information so that you do not need to. If said systems do not exist, do everyone else a favor and build them. I am streamlining an entire organization through Excel; you can, too. The “data entry” profession should go extinct and give rise to useful tools that save everyone a hell of a lot of time.

Chart Your Addictions

Want to quit? Then inventory every infraction. Timestamp them into a spreadsheet. Explain to yourself why you gave in and take notes. Run SUM formulas to tally the total number of infractions per month. Never miss a beat. Make a habit out of charting your habit. Keep track of your addiction. Determine whether or not your habit is good or bad, frequent or infrequent – and monitor the change.

If your addiction is staring at you in the face all the time, one of two things will happen: you will get tired of the spreadsheet, or you will give in less frequently. Before long, you may even find yourself addiction free.

The Power of Spreadsheets and Accelerated Systems

Monotony and redundancy are not in my vocabulary. I refuse to be bored. Wasting time on repeat tasks is unacceptable. Sick of doing the same thing everyday? Optimize systems that perform repetitive tasks for you.

ExcelI worked for Lions Gate Films in 2008. Like most movie studios, they had interns manually entering box office data from Box Office Mojo to fill out research and market decks. It took between three and five hours to profile a small handful of films across international territories. Through Microsoft Excel, I crafted a formula to pull and format all of that data with a single copy and paste. Hours of work hacked down to mere seconds. To my knowledge, that spreadsheet template is still being used three years later.

No tool has earned me more reverence in the workplace than Excel. With over 340 functions and a limitless combination of formulas, Excel is one of the most robust problem-solving weapons in your software arsenal. If the problem is complicated enough and the data set large enough, I guarantee Excel has a solution.

Most people are afraid of it. Spreadsheet formulas are an abstraction of algebra, riddled with nested parenthesis, absolute and relative cell references, and a dictionary full of possible function combinations. I’ve had a cell formula 296 characters long that took me an afternoon to engineer and revise (a single extra parenthesis was breaking the whole thing!). Few people can rationalize the effort or focus that hard. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Engineer the right formula and you can save hours (or days even) on setting your computations straight. In addition to time saved, you can solve your problems with greater accuracy and ease.

Do not be afraid of Excel. Embrace the power. When you have a problem you want to solve, google Excel functions that can help you get where you need to go. I only know a dozen functions off the top of my head; I can search for the rest. Understand the fundamentals of Excel, and there will be no bounds.

People who understand spreadsheets are better situated to rule the world. Trust me: it’s worth learning. I even argue that high school math teachers should cover spreadsheet language as modern arithmetic, but that’s another post entirely.