While I was on holiday in Europe, I found that all that time without internet access or proximity to the things I wanted to work on meant that I was able to think about and plan out what I wanted to do a lot better than I had been able to before.
Somehow in the busy-ness of everyday life I forget this, and I am either doing something, deciding what to do next or intentionally resting for a very short period of time. I am almost constantly engaged, even during my walks in the park I am taking in the sights and sounds around me, allowing them to calm my mind, or reading a book.
The only moments where I am really not doing anything, not able to do anything and not worrying about what I will do next, are when I’m bathing.
Okay, so that might seem like a little too much information, but bear with me.
I can do nothing else in the bath, just relax and think. Because it’s such a calming environment and I don’t expect any ideas or answers to the questions I pose in my mind, sometimes some truly great ones appear. In those times I really wish I had some waterproof pens and something to write on, but the ideas usually hang around long enough for me to get them down anyway.
There have been some times when I didn’t even want to take the risk and asked my wife to come and take notes for me! My most recent idea that I put into action was actually something I posted about, putting summary details into text files. My most recent idea that I haven’t put into action yet but will, is setting up Excel templates with useful formatting applied.
One of the big things for anyone who uses Excel for reporting is that the data they input often does not match up to the outputs they present to others. This is necessary because the best data sets are big tables with simple titled rows and columns of data, no hidden results, no totals or sub-totals, no formatting except the table format. Those files are only really readable for people accustomed to reading them all the time, and those people are not generally the people you are presenting the outputs to. So instead we chop and edit and summarise the results.
But sometimes, we take the data as it is and present it in a slightly different format. Maybe some rows are grouped together based on a different criteria than how you received them, or there are sub-totals and totals, or they are summarised and split in different ways.
I have reports like this and each time I run them, I open the file, use VLOOKUPs to bring in the numbers I want onto the sheet that is formatted in the way I want, and then I break the links and save the file.
This wouldn’t be a bother, but for two things that I’ve been thinking about for a while.
- I write the same formulas in this report every week, it’s boring and it’s not uncommon that I will make a mistake and need to rewrite them.
- I put these formulas into a big file which isn’t formatted in a nice way for me to enter the data.
So my idea today, which I’ve used a little in some ways, is to have a simple template file with all the formulas already applied, in the format I need everything, that I can just dump my datasets into and then copy the output results into my main file.
So I’m adding steps into the process, I’m also taking out some particularly irritating ones, and the steps I’m adding are ones I can much better automate and simplify in the future. Not only that, but adding this extra step creates even more opportunities for highlighting inconsistencies in my new datasets, which is certainly not something to overlook!
Now if only I can tap into that relaxed, unpressured thinking time without having to be stuck in the bath, I could do things like this almost every day…