The One Thing You Can Do To Learn Something Fast
Recognize you have control of this, if nothing else —
I remember a time I was recommended for a project I felt my CV showed zero qualifications for.
There I was, sitting at my boss’ office, looking at a screen with dozens of unexciting lines. Small print. Listening to what needed to be done. It was just after lunch time.
As he scrolled through a 50+ page pdf, he was saying something about finding duplicate entries, verifying the rate charged, a weird thing about Wednesdays —
— I had no idea what he was talking about.
When I left, all I could tell — from the spreadsheets sent to my email — was that thousands of lines of service charges needed to be verified for accuracy. It was potentially costing the company thousands of dollars per year.
Thousands of lines to verify.
“Do you think you’ll have something ready by tomorrow?”
For some reason, I said: “Yes.”
At this point, some of you might TL;DR the whole experience because you’d know that a cross-utilization of MS Excel and Visual Basic could be a rudimentary way of making this work.
But when I took the assignment? The fanciest trick I knew on Excel was to highlight.
By the next day, I had an automated system ready to go.
To note, this isn’t the first time I’ve put myself in this type of situation.
At some point, somewhere, I learned that the most effective way to learn something quickly is to discover your reason to like it.
And a reason to like it isn’t ‘Because my boss would find it impressive’ or ‘I could make more money if — ’. Neither of those are a direct connection between you and what you need to learn.
I’m talking about a reason you could enjoy and appreciate it, even without recognition or priority.
This is not something that only some people can do because ‘You’re like that, I’m not.’
If there’s one thing we all have control of when given a challenge, it’s how we respond to it. I can choose to dislike the situation, or search for the reason why it would be interesting.
Because, after all, there are people who already do find it interesting. So the question is:
Before even typing the first letter of a search to related to my immediate problem, that’s what I needed to know.
Going back to that day, at around 1 o’clock. I started looking for places where people love data. Trolling r/dataisbeautiful, I came across a random comment with the term ‘excel guru’.
So I hit up YouTube and typed in ‘excel guru’.
When you listen to someone talk about why they’re so passionate about something, it can be infectious. When needing to learn something new, you need to catch that bug.
After some digging, I came across videos showing crazy problems involving long lists of data, and people figuring out simplified solutions for their unique problem.
One of them made a passing comment about the history of it — searching through repeated hours of tedious data, now possible in seconds. Now that is a life skill I’d want to have.
All the while, taking notes. Learning how to recognize the jargon. Identifying whatever pieces might apply to my situation:
Converting external files into spreadsheets? Yup. Pivot tables? Heck yes. Converting data into charts that are simpler to understand? Not really.
Anything on cross referencing? Uh oh… nope. At least, nothing specific to my problem.
It’s 4:30. Now, I could take this as a dead end, and accept that tomorrow I’ll be completely cooked. Or, I can take this as a chance to add something of my own and apply what I’m learning here —
— fortunately, with excel, all you need to do is create the right formula. And in excel, the formulas are open to interpretation.
And that’s how, in hours, what started with highlighting skills & a reddit troll ended with importing pdf spreadsheets > formatted data > organization optimzation > convert to pivot table > repeat for cross reference > highlight discrepancies > reconciliation tab summary.
While I went through that, I thought I might as well have YT autoplay in the background, since something might stand out. At some point, I heard something about ‘recording macros’. That seemed valuable enough to stop for a moment —
— I’m glad I did. Because now, all this stuff could be automated.
Granted, I did take this work home. But by the time it came to that point, I was charged up with the infectious passion that others already had for this kind of thing.
And there was the added bonus of knowing that if this was done the right way, a tedious, repetitive, hours-long task could end up being done instantly.
It wasn’t until midnight that I turned in. But I was comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep. What’s more, as my confidence grew, I was able to take breaks from the effort while doing it, and also have dinner with the fam.
A few more tweaks the next day, and 24 hours after yesterday’s meeting, I had an .xlsx file ready to go.
And we figured out what was up with those Wednesdays.
Thanks primarily to knowing that for anything, a reason to enjoy it can be found.
Looking back, I was fortunate to be in a fast-paced environment that allowed for opportunities like that. To be able to exercise the ‘find a reason to like it’ skill.
I had people around me who trusted my little quirk, and found opportunities to give it a chance.
Data crunching isn’t an example that would apply to everyone, but we’ve all been in a place where we were stuck having to learn something, and our initial response was to imagine how dreadful it’ll be, looking forward to when we’ll finally be done.
But in your own life, whatever the circumstance, know that when it comes to figuring out anything new, there’s one thing you have control of. One thing that takes out the stress, anxiety, and pressure that might come —
— and that’s discovering your own personal reason to enjoy it.
When you find that, you might surprise yourself with what it yields.