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.
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:
- Result – Identify the ideal result.
- Experiment – Explore until you develop an initial solution.
- Eliminate – Get rid of all the unnecessary steps.
- Systematize – Build a system for the future, and automate if possible.
- 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!
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