Don’t Do What I Did in Excel

I’ve got a story to tell you, and it’s all about what kept me up working in Excel long into the night and early morning:

The Set Up

My wife works with someone who gives her data in Google Sheets. And by Sheets I do mean Sheets, plural. She gets her data scattered across many different Google Sheets, which she needs to then make sense of, aggregate, and even add to. Like the supportive partner that she is, my wife suggested to her colleague that maybe there was a better way to do things, and that she knew just the person to help out. Of course, my wife was trying to kill two birds with one stone - to get me some work, and also to have me make her life easier by getting the data exchange process more streamlined.

The Surprise

Helping my wife’s colleague streamline her work was pretty straight forward - I took all of her manual processes and built a few sheets and formulas that became a tool to automate her work. Now all she had to do was copy & paste in new data when it came in and….poof! All her manual tasks were instead taken care of by formulas and functions. Hours of her work shrank to minutes. It was wonderful! But then I got to the part that would help my wife. Making it possible for her to receive and enter data in one place, without having to search through multiple sheets, turned out to be a lot trickier. I had to do a lot of design work and learn some new formulas. It all turned out to be way more complex and time consuming than I could have predicted. And this is work that my wife does only once a year - so all my work was only going to benefit one person, one time a year.

The Question

I did eventually build processes for her that allowed her to seamlessly receive and enter her data, but did she really need the experience to be so much easier and more streamlined, when it was only something she was doing once a year? I asked myself, was all the time and energy that I put into what I built really worth cutting down the few hours that she took sifting through Sheets and data for this work, to a few minutes?

When I answer this question for myself, I know the answer for sure:

YES!! And I’ll tell you why:

  1. The first reason is obvious - this was for my wife, and I would do anything and spend any time to make her life even a little bit easier.
  2. It turned into a great sample of a need and a solution, which can become a case study for me to use in the future. If a client comes to me with a similar need, I’ll have one more tool in my tool belt to offer them as a solution.
  3. I learned new things! Learning is one of my core values, and also one of the things I find most fun. In this case, I learned new approaches to working in Excel and even some new formulas. I was reminded that there is always more than one way to get to an end-goal in Excel, and the context of this work really pushed me to think about what would be best in this case.
  4. I got to practice walking away from Excel. At moments when I got stuck and frustrated and things seemed like they were too hard to figure out, I stopped working and took a step back. I tell my clients to do this all the time, but I got a great reminder of why it is so important. It helped keep me calm and let me come back to the work with fresh perspective.

The last reason is also pretty obvious - it was all worth it for me because I love this stuff!! It was literally fun and exciting for me to get this thing working for my wife. I’m telling you, I had flow doing this. And in the end I got a huge amount of satisfaction making it work.

The More Complicated Question

So, should you do what I did? Invest a significant amount of time to automate a process that happens only once a year and benefits only one person’s time?

Probably not.

I mean, unless this is your happy place like it is mine. And really, unless the time and energy you are going to invest in automating your processes is going to at least double the amount of time you are going to save every year. If not, why go through the potential frustration and disappointment if it doesn’t work out in the end?

There is one other reason that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you do what I did. Unless you have already mastered some aspects of the Excel mindset, you may not even know how to get started or how to state your end-goal and break it down into more manageable tasks. This is totally possible for everyone to master and to accomplish, but I’ve seen it done most successfully by the people who already have a strong sense of the approaches that are learned as part of mastering the Excel mindset.

Can you get there? Of course you can!! If you are interested in learning more, I would love to speak with you about it! Schedule some time with me to talk about your Excel needs. And if you don’t have time to learn it all, send me an email and let me know what manual processes you are struggling so we can see if there is a way to automate them!