Month: February 2020

Shir pensive

The Hidden Cost of “Doing it for Them”

A few years ago I decided to revamp my website.

I approached my friend, who helped launch a technology school, and asked for help.

They took a look around, popped the hood, and gave me an honest assessment of my website.

“This is beyond repair. You should declare technical bankruptcy and start over.”

😩

This is exactly what I did NOT want to hear.

“Okay fine. Can I pay you to fix it for me so I can move on with my life?” I asked, hopefully.

“Nope.” They said.

“Are you serious? Why not?!” I asked, half angry, half disappointed.

“Because that would make you dumber.” They replied, calmly.

“Go on….” I said, intrigued.

“If I simply ‘do it for you,’ you will never understand how your own website works. You will always be dependent on someone else.”

They were right, and I knew it.

Over the next few months they guided, coached, and empowered me to build my own website, from the ground up. It was painstaking, time consuming, and involved a healthy dose of cursing at my computer. However, at the end of the day when I finally published my website, I knew it had all been worthwhile.

Now, I do not simply have a functioning website. I also have written SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) with detailed step-by-step instructions for how to back up my website, restore my website, and even build it again from scratch if I need to. More importantly, I have the independence and freedom to make any change, at any time, for any reason.

I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this is. Throwing money at the problem and fixing it in the moment would certainly have been a lot easier, but ultimately I would have been worse off in the end.

Although I didn’t appreciate it initially, I am now eternally grateful for my friend’s help in allowing me to solve my own problem.

The funny part is, this is exactly the same philosophy that I built my business on.

When you tell me your problem, I will not simply hand over a spreadsheet that solves it for you. (Unless of course you are part of an organization that is ready to fork over thousands of dollars. Then, by all means we should have your people call my people.)

Instead, I will teach you how and why spreadsheets work the way they do, and guide you into developing your own custom solution.

Why?

Because everything is always evolving. You will always need to be able to make changes and adapt to new situations in the future.

If I simply give you a spreadsheet, and you don’t fully understand how and why it’s working, you will not be able to make the necessary changes yourself. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself with an obsolete tool.

However, once you understand how and why things work the way they do, you can create and adapt your own spreadsheets to work in your own unique circumstances.

Parting Words of Wisdom

You may have heard the saying “If I give you a fish, you will eat for a day, but if I teach you how to fish, you will eat for a lifetime.”

Well, here’s my take on it…

If I give you a formula you will calculate for a day, but if I teach you how and why it works, you will calculate for a lifetime.

Back to you…

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you didn’t fully understand how and why something worked, only to spend more time, energy, and money cleaning up the mess? Given what you know now, how would you handle it differently? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

If you’d like some help on how to create a solid foundation of understanding to be able to solve your own spreadsheet challenges, I may know a guy who knows a guy :). Simply fill out this contact form and I’ll get back to you!

If you haven’t yet, I invite you to sign up for my email list by creating a free ExcelShir account. You will be joining a community of like-minded problem solvers, and will also get nuggets of Excel wisdom delivered straight to your inbox. Plus, I’ll also throw in some downloadable cheat sheets, exercises, and templates, because I care.

Would You Rather Be Efficient or Fast?

Ever since I was a boy, I have been fascinated by efficient processes

Maybe that’s why I loved those “Connect the Dots” puzzles so much? 🤔

Getting from point A to point B in the fewest number of steps always filled me with jubilation.

I was a weird kid, I know.

Little did I know I would be laying the groundwork for my future business and life’s mission of helping people save time by becoming more efficient in Excel.

The Difference Between Efficiency and Speed

I tell my students all the time – I would much rather you focus on being efficient, and not even worry about speed.

Think about it, you can be really fast with the keyboard, but if you are taking 20 steps to accomplish a task that only requires 2 steps, you will always be wasting time.

Let that sink in, because it’s important.

Efficiency is about completing a task in the fewest number of steps.
Speed is about completing a task in the shortest amount of time.

I admit that saving time is the ultimate goal here.

BUT, in order to spend less time, you must FIRST ensure that you are performing the fewest number of steps.

The other thing people don’t realize is that speed is a natural and effortless byproduct of practice. The more you perform a task, the faster you will get.

Therefore, it stands to reason that you’re better off reducing the number of steps first, and then allowing yourself to practice, internalize, and get faster at performing that particular task.

OK Shir I get it, so how do I find the most efficient solution?

So glad you asked :).

Example Problem: You’re at a restaurant with friends and you want to split the bill as fairly and easily as possible.

Photo credit: John A. DeMato. Photo taken from: Linda A Cooks

Five Steps to Solve Any Problem Efficiently:

1. Identify the ideal result.

Most people overlook this step because it seems too obvious. However, when you take a few extra moments to strip away all the fluff, and identify the ideal result in a clear and concise way, only then do you actually know what you’re working towards and where you’re going.

In our example, the easiest way to split the bill (which most people resort to) is to divide the total amount owed by the number of people, resulting in everyone paying the same amount.

Although this is remarkably simple, it is by no means fair, especially when some people order more expensive items than others.

Therefore, in this case the ideal result for me would be to have people pay a proportional amount of the bill, based on what they ordered.

2. Explore and experiment until you reach an initial solution.

Don’t worry about getting the BEST solution, or even the most efficient one. Just get A solution. Not only will this give you a nice confidence boost (woohoo!), it will also help you in the next steps.

Back to our restaurant example…

My initial thought would be to create a spreadsheet (shocking, right?) that allows for everyone to enter their name, the name of the items they ordered, how much each one cost, and the percentage tip they want to leave.

Sure, this would get the job done, but it also would be cumbersome to bring a laptop to every dinner outing with friends. Not to mention the task of entering the data in the spreadsheet would be annoying for most people (ahem, anyone other than me).

3. Eliminate everything except for the most simple and direct steps to the solution.

Think of Michelangelo and how the statue of David was there in the block of marble all along. All he had to do was strip away all the parts that weren’t David. Same concept here, minus the marble.

At the restaurant, we don’t REALLY need a spreadsheet.

*GASP* I can’t believe I said it. Don’t tell anyone.

Instead of a spreadsheet, all we need to do in order to determine how much each person owes, is to take out a calculator and add up the price of each item the person ordered. Once they have that total number, they need to also include tax and tip.

Let’s say they ordered $10 worth of food. Tax in the great state of New York is 8.875%. Obviously tip can vary, but for this scenario let’s go with a nice even 20% tip.

Solution Round 01: Break everything out separately

A) Tax owed = $10 * 8.875 ÷ 100 = $0.8875 (or $0.89 rounded)
B) Tip owed = $10 * 20 ÷ 100 = $2.00
C) Total owed = $10 + $0.89 + $2.00 = $12.89
Total Steps: 3

Solution Round 02: Consolidate Tax % + Tip %

A) Tax % + Tip % = 8.875% + 20% = 28.875%
B) Tax owed + Tip owed = $10 * 28.875 ÷ 100 = $2.8875 (or $2.89 rounded)
C) Total owed = $10 + $2.89 = $12.89
Total Steps: 3

Solution Round 03 – Combine into single step

A) Total owed = $10 *1.28875 = $12.8875 (or $12.89 rounded)
Total Steps: 1

See what I did there? I set up the calculation in such a way that the only required input is the total of all the dishes that a person ordered. Then, I simply multiply it by 1.28875 (which is the equivalent of 128.875%).

4. Systematize and automate if possible.

The worst thing you can do is solve this problem today, and then forget your solution.

Why is that so bad, Shir?

Because the next time you are faced with either the same exact problem, or a very similar one, you will be starting from scratch.

The very thought of solving the same problem more than once is absolutely appalling to me. *shudder*

INSTEAD, please do yourself a favor and take a few extra moments to create an organized system so you can leverage your existing solution in the future.

Sometimes all this means is writing it down. (Note: Make sure you do so in an organized and accessible way. If you can’t find it in the future, what good is it really?)

For our restaurant example, I would write down 1.28875 on an app on my phone called Outliner, which I use to organize all my thoughts…including this very article! 🙂

In another scenario, creating an organized system could mean writing a program, perhaps using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications, the programming language of Excel), to automate the solution. This is only worthwhile if you have the time and energy to invest upfront, and if it is for a task that would have to be completed hundreds or thousands of times.

Either way, the point here is NOT to only solve this one problem today. Instead, solve this problem, and ALL similar problems now and forever. Free up your mind and your time for newer, more interesting, and more worthwhile problems.

5. Teach someone else what you learned.

This is perhaps the most valuable step of all, and sadly it is also the most overlooked.

When you teach someone else, amazing things happen:

  • They will appreciate your help in making their lives easier.
  • You will learn the concept better yourself!

When you have to articulate in words exactly how something works, you must truly understand it inside and out. Preferably the person you are teaching won’t understand at first, and you will have to explain it from multiple angles with different examples, until it finally clicks for them.

How do you think I became such an expert with Microsoft Excel? 😉

For the restaurant example, this very article is a great example of me sharing my solution with others. Amirite?

To recap, here are the 5 steps to solving any problem efficiently:

  1. Result – Identify the ideal result.
  2. Experiment – Explore until you develop an initial solution.
  3. Eliminate – Get rid of all the unnecessary steps.
  4. Systematize – Build a system for the future, and automate if possible.
  5. Teach – Share what you learned with someone else.

For those of you who like memory tricks or mnemonics, just think of “REEST.” As in… “First I’ll solve this problem, then I’ll get some REEST!”

How about you?

Which would you rather be? Efficient or fast? Or perhaps you have a completely different take on efficiency or problem solving? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

If you found this helpful, please share with a friend.

If you haven’t yet, please sign up for my email list by creating a free ExcelShir account. You’ll get nuggets of Excel wisdom delivered straight to your inbox. Plus, I’ll also throw in some downloadable cheat sheets, exercises, and templates. Fancy right?