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Excel Tip of the Month: Close the Frikken Spreadsheet - Oz du Soleil

Let’s add this to an earlier post about the 6 Quiet Habits for Working with Excel & Data. In that post I listed several best practices that won’t ever end up in a “Make Excel Your Friend” manual. Yet, they are just as helpful as a nested IF statement. Here is #7:

  • Buy a lap-sized whiteboard
  • Make some coffee
  • Go outside!

Today I’m working on a project that has a lot of little pieces and the stakes are high. Sitting at this desk, experimenting with this-&-that eventually felt like I was chasing my tail. The answer is to step away from the confusion and get re-acquainted with the big picture. Often the big picture doesn’t look the same any more. After digging into the problem for 2 days, there are new details, surprises have been exposed, some parts are much easier to handle, and others are still “what the hell??” So …

Excel tip: get a whiteboard and go outside

Close the frikken spreadsheet and go outside

This image was from this morning in the backyard. Whiteboard, purple dry-erase pen and coffee …

Sure enough, sitting in the backyard, I could see that this challenge has 6 distinct scenarios that have to be managed. Two days ago I saw only 2 scenarios. Two days ago I imagined this would require VBA code. Today, there’s a chance this can be done with Dependent Dropdown Lists.

The details aren’t important for you to grasp (I’m being paid to handle the details). The point is that a good habit to have is:

remember to step away and clarify the revised big picture

Very seriously …

I talk with students and work with clients and strategy is often what’s missing. They don’t need VBA code or an OFFSET function. Strategy and big picture–with anything we do, not just Excel–are what we need to pull our ass out of the fire with tools we already have.

So, if you hit a rut or feel like you’re chasing your tail, go outside. Maybe we’ll see each other out there.

(Yes, my handwriting is awful.)