5 things I learned from two days using spreadsheets

Many of you may work with spreadsheets on a day to day basis, you’re probably able to reflexively type your favourite snazzy formulas and have that artistic knack for functionality and aesthetics which results in a good spreadsheet.

I, however, haven’t touched excel since high school when, if memory serves me right, I basically failed the excel based coursework of the statistics course. (I may have resubmitted? All I know is that it was a miracle that the exam managed to average it our to a B).

Following last week’s #MediaLit17 conference I’m currently spending a week with the Communications Officer at the Diocese of Durham. One of the things this has involved is examining and cross-referencing the Diocesan Database with the A Church Near You website to check which church profiles are up to date and so on. It’s a bit more complicated than that but in essence I’ve needed to create a spreadsheet to record the results before writing a short report on the findings. Here’s what I’ve found from using spreadsheets:

1. Consistency is key

Pick a system and stick with it. One of the difficulties has been taking data from other spreadsheets which have been compiled overtime and there are subtle yet distinct differences in formatting, for example, church names which slows the process down. It’s also important when looking at lots of data points to look at them in the same order. Example: I was checking the About Us, Contact Us, Services, Facilities and More Info tabs and was most productive when I looked at these in sequence rather than flicking back and forth. Obvious, perhaps. But consistency is key nonetheless.

2. I’ve forgotten so much from high school

Seriously, I swear that I used to know how to do some of the formatting elements which simplify the information into a visually accessible manner. Some things are pretty obvious too. If you’re wanting to make a chart from dates then make sure you record them in the right format so that the spreadsheet can process them as dates, rather than as text like mine currently is!

3. I remember so much from high school

I may have forgotten a lot excel skills from school, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve remembered and been able to do. Not to brag but I’ve been able to make graphs which represent the key points the report needs to show! That was definitely a remembering while doing, rather than a process of relearning and logical figuring out. It’s made me curious, how much have I written off from school which is actually still floating around in the back of my mind, waiting to be useful, from other subjects? Indeed, how many ‘forgotten memories’ are just waiting for the right situation, the right prompt to be remembered? We remember more than we think.

4. Focus is a choice

Easy for me to say, I’ve only done this for two days. But I stand by it. Gorilla Mindset by Cernovich talks about mindfulness and choosing how we feel. This project is definitely not my primary skill set. I’d far rather read reports on data than have to collect and process that data myself. I’m a trained theological thinker, learning to be a priest and an aspiring writer — not a number cruncher or spreadsheet savant! However, I’ve been able to choose to be disciplined and to choose to get it done, and done faster than I think I was expected. This has challenged me to think about how I focus on other things — hence writing this blog post. What can you choose to focus on today?

5. Don’t be afraid of competency.

Mastery of anything takes time, dedication and hard work. Those who master anything should be acknowledged and celebrated, whether that be a mastery of theoretical physics or setting up a successful business or restoring antique furniture. With the best will in the world, no one can master everything. But mastery or interests can limit us. There’s a comfort factor which kicks in when we do what we know we can do. But what happens when we are thrust into a scenario where we are handicapped and can’t play to our strengths. Do we crumble, mope, and limp on until we can get back to doing our thing? Or do we embrace the discomfort, attempting to not just survive but thrive? Spreadsheets aren’t my strong suit. But this week I am proving to myself that I can use them well enough to do a good job in order to provide value to someone else who needs it. This principle of discomfort is one which I’m on a journey of pursuing. Cold showers, spreadsheets, whatever. It is through discomfort that we grow.

These two days are part of this week, and in the grand scheme of things this week is just a week — but why shouldn’t I seek to learn as much as I can from it? And what are you going to learn from your week? Let me know, I’m genuinely interested!