Spreadsheets and You: How and Why to Put Your Life in Them

Spreadsheets

“Honey, this is the year I put it in a spreadsheet.”

That’s what I told Melinda in January 2012.

She just shot me a puzzled look, part hoping I was joking, part wanting me to elaborate, and part questioning how the guy who asked her out in college became this weird spreadsheet dude.

She responded, “You’re going to put what in a spreadsheet?”

I grinned and stated proudly, “Everything!

There were many intentional and unintentional victories I achieved in 2012. The most resounding success – except for starting Value of Simple – was my determination to “put it in a spreadsheet.”

And by “it,” I mean all of “it.”

What the hell am I talking about?

This is the 81st piece of content I’ve created at Value of Simple and I’m embarrassed not a single one has been about spreadsheets.

After all, I’m an Excel spreadsheet fiend. A true freakin’ spreadsheet maniac.

Before we continue, can I get a quick promise? Give me a chance to prove how and why you should put your life in spreadsheets before you stop and say, “Does this guy really expect me to read an article about spreadsheets?” After all…

2013 will be the ‘Year of the Spreadsheet.’

Oh. Wait. That already happened in 1993?! Then we’re going retro and spinning this record again, baby!

(This is also a great time to download the complete Spreadsheet Spotlights that I and countless others use to simplify, organize, and be money wise).

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The Origins of Spreadsheets Fanaticism

Listen to me talk for more than half an hour and you’ll probably hear me reference spreadsheets.

Maybe it was my Librarian Assistant job in college where I used Excel spreadsheets for the first time. Maybe it was the decade in Corporate America of having every fourth email I sent or received containing an Excel spreadsheet.

Regardless, I remember the exact date and feelings I had when I opened up Microsoft Excel for the first time.

Just kidding. I’m not that nuts.

I don’t know the origins of my love for spreadsheets. But I do know why I love them now and how they enable personal productivity, confidence, and amazement.

I use spreadsheets because I have to. You see, my natural memory is terrible. Like so terrible I can forget any piece of information that doesn’t have a number in it.

Shanna Mann knows something about extracting superpowers from weaknesses and I’ve done that by outsourcing my memory to spreadsheets.

I’m quite serious when I say I have four brains. One of them is instantly accessed through a network of spreadsheets anywhere Dropbox is available. For me, that’s pretty much everywhere.

The other three are:

  1. The unreliable grey squishy thing inside my skull
  2. Melinda
  3. Google / The Interwebs

Melinda is my preferred secondary brain, but she doesn’t experience everything that I do and isn’t permanently around. Google and the Internet are useless in many ways and make a poor substitute brain for most of my needs.

But Excel spreadsheets. Ahhh…those precious spreadsheets. They’re always available and are organized exactly the way I want.

I’ll admit they can’t solve every problem so I don’t seem like a raving madman. For example, they can’t document twenty different sets of dietary allergies and preferences when my extended family gets together (trust me, I tried).

However, let’s start with why spreadsheets should be used in magical ways you’ve never dreamed of.

Why Grant is Named Grant

Spreadsheets

You’re at Value of Simple which means that organizing and simplifying are important to you.

Spreadsheets weren’t created with you in mind (unless you were an accountant in the 1970s), but they have evolved with everyone in mind.

The problem with spreadsheets is they have been primarily marketed as a solution for number crunchers and techies. That’s too bad, because my best spreadsheets don’t have a single number in them and are as simple as can be.

As your possibilities for spreadsheets expand beyond a complex calculation tool, think about how many times you wished there was a better solution to:

  • Getting information from random sheets of paper at home or at work
  • Organizing your recipe list across many books and websites
  • Remembering when and where you saw that awesome article about super cute puppies
  • Finding a reference to something buried deep inside your journals
  • Sorting and filtering your personal contacts with context for each one (you know, curating style)

The better solution to all these issues is spreadsheets.

You’re forgiven if you’ve never thought of or have forgotten about some of the best benefits of spreadsheets Even I periodically forget about benefits like:

  1. Easy to format, access, and learn the basics
  2. See all your information in one place
  3. They come free or bundled with software (e.g. Microsoft Office) at no extra cost
  4. Simple to share with others (either as a template or pre-populated with content)
  5. The best point and click sort and filter functions around
  6. Flexible grouping and presenting of information (e.g. pie charts, graphs, and pivot tables)
  7. Anyone with a computer knows at least something about them (except my Aunt Fran, bless her heart)

I’m not saying you need to dedicate days to putting your life in a spreadsheet. I mean, who in their right mind would combine information from their RSS reader, Evernote, bookmarks, Word documents, and Post It Notes into a single spreadsheet?

Don’t make me answer that.

All I know is it’s no accident that any useful software or website allows you to export your stuff to a spreadsheet.

Still not convinced a spreadsheet is the perfect tool for many needs? Fair enough. Just answer this question.

You like public libraries, right?

Libraries are awesome! They’re free, intuitively organized, have tons of resources all in one place, and just about everyone has access.

Notice any similarities to spreadsheets yet?

A spreadsheet can be your personal library. A spreadsheet gives you instant access to everything important from the time you create it to the time you delete it…without taking up physical space!

Want a personalized grocery list that takes 30 seconds to complete? Put it in a spreadsheet.

Need to track the last time you did maintenance on your car or in your home? Put it in a spreadsheet.

Must see all your Japan trip details on one simple page? Put it in a spreadsheet.

Have to decide the name of your first child through a weighted nine point baby name scoring system because you want to call the kid Frank and your partner wants to call the kid Ezra? Put it in a spreadsheet (and thank us later, Grant).

Now let’s cover how to use spreadsheets in some frickin’ schweet ways.

How to Put It in a Spreadsheet

Spreadsheets

Consider this an overview of the “put it in a spreadsheet” paradigm. The full version requires much more explanation which I’ll be providing over time.

Personally, I find reviewing a checklist valuable when creating a new spreadsheet and you might too. This can guarantee you get the most out of it and that it doesn’t become quickly obsolete.

My spreadsheet creation checklist looks like this:

  1. Define why I’m creating the spreadsheet. Is it because I can’t otherwise remember important experiences or because I couldn’t easily locate the information in another way? Because I don’t want to pay for a specialized resource that a spreadsheet could outmaneuver and outclass? This isn’t fancy or formal and often takes seconds. But if I don’t instantly know or can’t explain why I need a spreadsheet, I may think about it some more or – heaven forbid – meet my need without spreadsheets.
  2. Determine how many tabs (a.k.a. worksheets) I need. My default is one tab for the simplicity and being able to see everything in one place. We’ll cover the many valid reasons why you would need multiple tabs some other day.
  3. Think about the visual formatting. Most of my spreadsheets are minimalist with few colors and sparse visual formatting. Each column header name is extremely literal so that someone else can easily understand its purpose and how it relates to the other parts of the spreadsheet. Although I rarely print any spreadsheet except the grocery list, contemplate the ideal margins, orientation, print area, header and footer, or paper size if you plan to print it. Considering each column’s cell format (e.g. text, number, date), the text alignment (e.g. wrapped, bottom aligned), and font (I like 10 point Arial) is a good idea too.
  4. Identify my sorting and filtering needs. This tells me whether I need to add columns for stuff like categories, tags, notes, descriptions, or anything else I might want to sort and filter by. If you’re highly visual and have a spreadsheet program that allows sorting and filtering by text color or cell background color (e.g. newer versions of Microsoft Excel), take advantage of this little known feature.
  5. Consider future modifications. Making a structural or visual change to a spreadsheet is much easier than modifying the infrastructure of a house. Regardless of what you build though, it’s best to be aware of how it might evolve. Considering future changes at the beginning will save you time later by not having to blow up the spreadsheet and start from scratch.

Want to see two examples of spreadsheets I created based on this “put it in a spreadsheet” philosophy? Check these out:

You can also see the complete line-up of Spreadsheet Spotlights in the subscriber-only Refuge of Simplicity with the quick and secure form below.

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More Will Be Revealed

By now you understand the origins of my spreadsheet fanaticism, why spreadsheets are so important, the philosophy of how to “put it in a spreadsheet,” and immediate benefits to putting some of your life in them.

I hope this is enough for you to start experimenting with spreadsheets, Excel or otherwise. This blueprint is intentionally incomplete, leaving you to have some fun with filling in the blanks. I want to see how you take this challenge to be creative and use spreadsheets in awesome ways I’ve never thought about. When you do, make sure to let us know why you did it and how we can do it too.

In time, you may commit to “putting it in a spreadsheet” and realize the full potential of this simple tool. Having another free, always available, and simple way to capture key information – and perfectly organize it just for you – is a true gift.

So share with us: how do you use spreadsheets and why are they the right tool for your needs?

Photo Credit: Dyanna Hyde, Jon Newman
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53 Responses to Spreadsheets and You: How and Why to Put Your Life in Them

  1. Gary Korisko says:

    Joel:

    I had no idea. I’m a bit of a spreadsheet geek myself. Some would say more than a “bit.”

    And while I can’t claim EVERYTHING is in a spreadsheet, I can confess that many, many things are.

    As you pointed out, it’s just a great way to categorize, keep, and compare information. I’m looking forward to your inevitable upcoming post, “How to organize and find all those damn spreadsheets.”

    • “You had no idea” what, Gary? That I was a spreadsheet fiend? Assuming that’s what you meant, all I can say is, “Oh yes my friend. Oh yes!”

      I hadn’t previously thought about writing organizing of spreadsheets as opposed to organizing within spreadsheets. But that’s a pretty cool topic and one that’s in my wheelhouse. Count on a “how to find and organize all your spreadsheets” post down the road.

      P.S. Mind telling us what the coolest spreadsheets you create are for?

      • Gary Korisko says:

        I can’t speak to what the coolest are, but the ones I use most have to do with tracking trends. Sales numbers, activity efficiency, anything really that you can collect data for over time.

        Once you have a large amount of data, it’s SO valuable to be able to find commonalities and intersections.

        I also use them for storing information, but my favorite use of spreadsheets would have to be trending and forecasting.

        (I’m a geek)

  2. Shanna Mann says:

    I have a Householder’s book of Days Spreadsheet. You see, from the medieval times, householders and chatelaines kept detailed records about how much food was stored, how much consumed, what improvements were made, what the weather was like.

    Mine is not so detailed– but it does contain records of all the household maintenance, as well as make, model, and if possible age, of all household appliances. Without a chatelaine with a mind like a steel trap, no one would otherwise know how long its been since the HVAC was inspected.

    Can’t wait for this series!

    • All I can say is that you just foreshadowed the topic of the first “Spreadsheet Spotlight” post. Everyone, I swear I didn’t prompt Shanna to do that. Sometimes she just gets inside my head and I don’t even know it. You should try letting Shanna into your brain from time-to-time as well. It’s a very pleasant experience.

      • Shanna Mann says:

        Aww, shucks. I got the idea from the vehicle maintenance logs we kept when I drove truck. Every truck had a notebook in the glove compartment, and every fix or service made on the truck by a company mechanic went in there. That way the mechanics were able to see patterns in wear, even across many divisions of the company (those trucks moved around a lot, as you can imagine). I’ll bet you have something similar for your vehicles?

        • Yep, it’s a good bet I have something similar. Since you seem to be good at betting, just let me know how much you want me to “put on red” for ya at the roulette table while I’m in Vegas.

  3. I can’t say I’m a spreadsheet fanatic… but I am pretty darn enamored with them. I love using them to keep track of myself, haha.

    • Hey Kim,

      What do you mean by “using them to keep track of myself?” Do you use them for curating your existence like I do or for some other purpose(s)?

      • Kim Thirion says:

        Well hmm… I guess I’m a little late on the response here!

        I don’t use them anywhere near the way you do, but I do use them for various things: novel planning/tracking, post planning, wedding planning, bills, and once in a while, I’ll use them for some one-time random thing.

  4. Since I still have a corporate day job… well spreadsheets are a must… pretty much 20 hours a day. I have a iPhone app for the sleeping part. :-)

    We joked with our project manager that she would be using a spreadsheet for her newborn. lol

    I did rebel for a bit… leave the corporate way of life… so left the spreadsheets and lists, but reality set in and I knew that I just wasn’t organized enough. So I have started to incorporate them back into my life.

    Looking forward to reading the series!

    • It’s funny (not “ha-ha” funny of course) how people leave the tools of the corporate world behind them when they start their own business. I did it, you did it, and I know a ton of other folks that did it. It’s too bad people leave behind the beauty of spreadsheets though when they leave the traditional work environment. I’m trying to change people’s view on when an appropriate time would be to use a spreadsheet and all the ways they could be used. Hopefully I’m off to a good start!

  5. You definitely had me going with a few of your comments there. I thought you really did have a magical moment when you first saw Excel for the first time, ha!

    I use spreadsheets at work all the time, though my work there demands the heavy usage of numbers. Other than programs that plugin directly to Analytics, I haven’t found a better way to present web traffic and behavior to clients.

    • Hey Michael,

      You might need to swap notes with my wife Melinda some day. She works with digital analytics on Best Buy’s website and loves a good pivot table or graph within Excel. I’m not ashamed to say she knows a ton more about Excel than I do. However, I think some of my classless and minimalist spreadsheets hold their own when it comes to generating value…even against the awesome spreadsheets with macros, pictures, and all the bells and whistles I haven’t mastered.

      Your spreadsheets sound pretty schweet I gotta say!

  6. Priska says:

    I don’t use spreadsheets at all. I am one of those who looked at simplifying my life by getting away from the need to always fill in all of those forms. You have now convinced me that chunking things into spreadsheets can make life simple.

  7. Sarah says:

    Okay, Joel… I’m going to say it.

    This post actually got me excited about spreadsheets.

    Not to mention, I think it’s the most *you* post I’ve read… I love how clearly you are able to communicate your passion and make it relevant for all of us. (And lucky Grant that his dad is so into spreadsheets!)

    • I’m vacillating between giving your comment a “ta-dow!” or a “boo-yah!” I think either would be appropriate.

      Thanks for letting me know that this type of post comes across as authentically me. Despite my radical transparency, sometimes I don’t feel like enough of my quirkiness and “me-ness” comes across in written posts. Since you enjoyed this one, you’ll get a kick out of the first Spreadsheet Spotlight post later this month. It’s, shall we say, definitely me (and a bit over the top).

  8. Erin says:

    What a totally “Joel” post! I can’t believe you’ve never talked about spreadsheets on here before. You are, like, Mr. Spreadsheet Dude.

    I think my reluctance to use spreadsheets too heavily comes from several places. First, I like things to look pretty, with colors and spacing and nice aesthetics, which can be achieved with a spreadsheet but take some time. Second, I like to be able to see as much as possible at once, and I get frustrated when I have to scroll through some gigantic master doc. Third, I often have trouble parsing the information I want to store down into discrete and columnizable (new word) chunks of information.

    That being said, I do have some things in spreadsheets at the moment. I like them for anything involving math (mm, formulas!). I use them to track the hours I tutor (which I have to turn in each month). I use them on and off for planning purposes, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish. And I bet you’ll manage to convince me to use them for more… :)

    • As I mentioned to Priska, it’s a big goal of mine to convince people to use spreadsheets in ways they’ve never considered. You’re going to be a tough one to crack though because you have a ton of legitimate issues to overcome. I’ll let the Spreadsheet Spotlights do the talking for me. You’re not a lost cause yet. ;)

      I do like the way you currently use spreadsheets though. The kinds of formulas you can create are are A-Mazing!

      P.S. I couldn’t believe it either when I saw how many posts I wrote without a spreadsheet one. Problem solved.

  9. Tammy R says:

    Oh my, I better not let CJ catch wind of this. Or actually, I should! He, after all, is the man who prints out a master grocery list each week and knows the layout of the store. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have my life turned into a spreadsheet? No kidding at all!

    Joel, you have revived my interest in spreadsheets. Actually, I only had an aversion when teaching public school, so I welcome your series as that “Excel moment” you teased us about!

    • So CJ’s a bit of a spreadsheet guy, eh? I print out a spreadsheet grocery list each time I make a shopping run too. I considered adding columns for what aisle and location each item is found in different stores, but I wanted to keep it to one page (and not have 4 point font). Maybe he has a better way of pulling this off? If so, tell the fella to shares his secrets.

      I’m glad you’re modestly interested in spreadsheets Tammy. Perhaps you’ll be spurred to spreadsheet action by the end of 2013.

      • cj renzi says:

        Oh, how embarrassing to have to admit that the extent of my spreadsheet know-how is to open the program and wonder what all those tiny boxes do and I actually had to just close this window so that I was truthful about being able to open the program.

        I suppose I ought to tune in for this series.

  10. Denise says:

    I do like spreadsheets, probably not with as much details as you put into yours, but I like the simplicity of it.

    Have you gotten to a point here creating them is done quickly? I don’t use excel much, so I don’t remember what shortcuts they have for filling things in quickly.

    • Hey Denise,

      Yes, I’ve gotten really fast at creating them. But more importantly, I don’t have to tweak them after being created nearly as much as I used to. it doesn’t how matter how fast you generate something if you always have to modify the structure of it. That’s what my guidelines are for so I do it “right” the first time.

      As for efficiently populating the spreadsheet once the framework is in place, there are a million ways. Identifying the best method heavily depends on what you’re using the spreadsheet for of course. I can probably propose some methods if you can explain a couple of spreadsheets you want to more efficiently fill up.

  11. Ethan says:

    Man! I’m been waiting for this post since you did the podcast episode on curation. This is great! I was immediately inspired to create a spreadsheet for tracking all of my client interactions, including their name, date, what work I did for them, how much they paid, and whether or not I’ve asked for a testimonial (plus a link to it).

    One issue I’m running into immediately is just organizing the spreadsheets that I have. I have some in Google Docs, and then others in Dropbox. It sounds like you favor the Dropbox route. I might lean towards GDocs because I can then edit the spreadsheets from my iOS devices.

    • At-a-boy Ethan! Way to crank out a quality spreadsheet right away.

      You do bring up a good point though and are now the second person to mention it. After you get really good at organizing the information within spreadsheets, how do you organize all the spreadsheets themselves? I’m going to write a future post about this, but here’s my super condensed version for now.

      If you’re OK with the very limited functionality of GDocs (compared to Excel) and are confident every place you travel will have Internet access, keep everything in GDocs. GDocs is extremely portable and accessible on just about any electronic device (as you know). I use Dropbox and prefer accessing an Excel version of my spreadsheets because the experience is so much better. Not to mention I dislike the data entry and latency of GDocs spreadsheets. Have you considered using Microsoft Skydrive to keep everything in Excel and have access to it in the cloud? That’s another alternative that could work.

  12. Bobbi Emel says:

    Okay, Joel, to be honest, I’m a little intimidated by the spreadsheet software. Is that silly? Anytime I use a spreadsheet I make a table in Word rather than use Excel. I just don’t know what all of the functions are in Excel and so I’m a bit afraid of them. I hope your new series will have some very basic stuff for chickens like me.

    • No, being intimidated by spreadsheets (or any software) isn’t nuts. But I’m not going to be covering the basics of spreadsheets on Value of Simple like I might on the basics of Daily Money Management. Most of the upcoming posts will be beginner to intermediate level though, meaning if your spreadsheet skills improve independently of my help (and I can throw out some good resources for that if you need them), this will be a groovy experience for you Bobbi.

  13. David Delp says:

    May I just say politely, this is one of the geekiest conversations I’m happy to participate in. I just taught someone how to use Google spreadsheets, and it’s changing her life. I use them for managing investment proportions, professional networking goals, and my mom’s ever changing home care needs.

    Don’t get me started on how cool Google forms are too. Ask people a list of questions, then organize the results in a nice spreadsheet.

    Okay, I started myself. Can’t wait to see more of this geekiness revealed.

    • Hey David,

      You could even say that impolitely. :)

      I’m not a big fan of Google Spreadsheets – relative to Excel – for the reasons I mentioned in my reply to Ethan. However, in absolute terms, it’s pretty dang good for free. Using Google Forms and having a Google Spreadsheet on the back-end is awesome though! I’ve used this three times for surveys or other data collection methods and it works really well. I’m glad you’re pumped up and ready for some spreadsheet action! You’ll dig what I have in store for everyone.

  14. Patti says:

    I thought that I used spreadsheets for “everything” but after reading this post, I am in awe. I have so much to learn! I have spreadsheets for home (ie contents of the freezer, standard shopping lists, handyman chores, comparisons of appliance brands, etc. …) for my business (I’m an accountant, need I say more) and for my personal life (goals, to-do list, where-stuff-is-at, movies I want to watch, financial, etc etc). Excel is where I start when I want to list, organize, review, or remember something.

    I’ve never heard of Google spreadsheets, but have to confess that I am leery of giving Google the power to own and cut me off from my spreadsheets. I guess if I backed up daily that could work. I’m at least going to check it out so I can see what it looks like.

    Thank you, Joel. I’m really looking forward to the series.

    • You’re no spreadsheet slouch Patti. For what it’s worth, I’m impressed (and pleased)!

    • Helen says:

      Wow, I can’t believe there are others out there with a spreadsheet for their freezer contents. My OH persuaded me to do this after going crazy trying to find the frozen peas. I was sceptical at first but in fact the system works really well. It’s not totally foolproof however – why, for example, is there always a mystery bag of something lurking in the murky depths that both of us deny ever having placed there? One day, we’ll defrost it and discover something horrifying…

      • The cool thing about the Internet is that you don’t have to look far anymore for someone with similar quirky habits. And sometimes you even realize that what you thought was a quirky habit is actually not so quirky since a lot of people do it.

        Now, who knows how many people use spreadsheets for freezer contents or circuit breaker boxes. But until all freezers can do self-inventory and identify mystery bags of something lurking in the back, spreadsheets are a darn fine way to maintain order. Let me know what that mystery item turns out to be, Helen!

  15. Dave says:

    Hi Joel,

    I always think of myself as a not-spreadsheets-never! type person. But I really enjoyed reading your post, you humanized spreadsheets for me (which seems quite a task) and it got me thinking.

    I’m very visual, and my notebooks are how I organize all my information and, actually, there are a lot of hand drawn ‘spread-sheety’ type pages in my books.

    And the process you set out is not so different from what I go through to organize my information.

    So I’m recognizing I don’t really have a problem with spreadsheets as such, it’s more of an aversion to the technology side of things. (That’s also why I create all of my art by hand and resist using computers for illustration.)

    I know I’m a bit clunky when it comes to making spreadsheets, but I’ve done it in the past. I think it’s more of a preference for the hand-drawn approach. Reading your underlying reasons for using spreadsheets makes them seem more like something I might want to use. Anyway, I’m interested to find out more.

    Cheers!

  16. Amit Amin says:

    Amazing copy Joel – I found myself getting excited… about spreadsheets!

    I must admit I’m rather stupid. I used to use spreadsheets a lot more than I currently do, and stopped because I like to make clean breaks (spreadsheets represent corporate America to me).

    But why shouldn’t I use a tool just because corporate America has also found a way to make them helpful? I completely agree that spreadsheeting everything is a life-changing idea.

    1) Because my memory sucks
    2) Because I’m a lazy quantified selfer
    3) Because my get-things-done spreadsheet system needs an upgrade
    4) Because I would love to have a third brain

    Alas, I’m a bit busy these next two months. Later this year… it will happen!

    • I made a clean break with a lot of the tools of corporate America too Amit, so I get it. As you can see from reading this post, my goal is to not only change people’s mindsets about what spreadsheets represent, but also what they can do (for you and everyone else). If your memory sucks half as much as mine does, this could be something awesome.

      Here’s a quick question though: what’s your second brain if spreadsheets would be your third brain?

      • Amit Amin says:

        Google. I can’t imagine what my world would be without it.

        • I can’t imagine a worth without Google either. I don’t want to usurp the role of the search engine in our lives…I just want to propose and implement alternatives. Between Google, Facebook, and other websites that personalize what you see (whether you like it or not, can control it or not, or are aware of it or not), we need to create our own paths to finding what’s important. I can’t outsource that huge responsibility to a third party.

          OK, how did I get on this little rant?

  17. Lee J Tyler says:

    Joel,
    I use spreadsheets as well but you are a master, I can tell. Do you know if Google’s spreadsheets have the cell color/text color sorting feature as well?
    As you are the master of spreadsheets, I am looking forward to this next series on them. And I’m quite serious. They are a great and dynamic organizer.
    I had to laugh, all in good fun, that you put the Buddhist Temple in the spreadsheet. I was just happy that you didn’t put arrival and departure times. Bodhisattva would think you need some balance ;)
    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Lee,

      It’s great to see your name here again! As of today, Google Docs spreadsheets can’t sort or filter by cell or text color like recent versions of Excel can. And I have to laugh at you laughing. I didn’t even review the content of our Japan itinerary before uploading it for potentially embarrassing things. I guess being as transparent as I try to be has its benefits (like unintentional humor) along with its drawbacks.

  18. John Mayson says:

    I have generally shied away from spreadsheets. I never thought they looked pretty. I prefer word processors and even text files. However… I think I have seen the light.

    I prepared some training material at work and used Word. I trained some folks last fall and I decided the Word document wasn’t a very good format. This week I created a spreadsheet and used tabs for each concept. I found a VB script to build a table of contents. It’s worked out wonderfully and has allowed me to consolidate a lot of information from various sources into a single Excel file.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. Hi Joel,

    I just dropped in to visit your page and this post stuck out. Now I can EASILY see why you were attracted to Joshua Becker’s and my blog post about comparison–aren’t spreadsheets the ultimate in comparison???? I’ll admit that they make it very easy to measure things–and that’s the attraction for myself. But then they also sometimes suck you into thinking those comparisons are the ultimate reality…. At any rate you’ve given me something to consider and that’s always a benefit when reading a new blog post.

    • Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for dropping in and saying, “hi.” Spreadsheets can absolutely be used for making great comparisons and I used to use them this way back in my corporate days. However, I now use spreadsheets in a very different way and rarely do they contain numerical analysis. The goal with most of my spreadsheets is to make them qualitative. That means anyone can create and manipulate them without formulas or advanced knowledge. This is a radical over-simplification, but I turn the traditional value of spreadsheets on its head and show people how they can use them in simple ways.

      If you need a hand with any of your own, let me know! I love talking spreadsheets (and a ton of other things of course).

  20. Mike says:

    The “cloud” has changed the way many are using spreadsheets. The website IFTTT (www.ifttt.com) allows you to set triggers for various actions using API’s from many different platforms across the web.

    I currently have one setup to track my gas mileage on my vehicle simply through a hashtag’ed text message. It fills in my pre formatted spreadsheet, then another tab does all the calculations.

    Not to mention I have my entire budget in a spreadsheet. Income calculations (with tax table calcs too!), all my paycheck deductions, monthly bills, monthly expenses, savings, 401k contributions, utility bills.

    My girlfriend thinks I’m nuts. I’m glad I’m not alone!

    • I think you’re as awesome as your girlfriend thinks you’re nuts, Mike! That’s some seriously groovy stuff you’re doing with spreadsheets.

      I keep hearing people mention all the cool stuff they are doing with IFTTT, but I still haven’t gone beyond kicking the tires of the options. Your comment is tempting me to get under the hood more and see how I might integrate Evernote, Excel, and the other tools I use to curate my existence better. Oh, the possibilities!

      By the way, if you could take any sensitive info out of your budget spreadsheet, I’d enjoy taking a peek. I have a feeling you and I might be sharing more resources in the coming days, Mike. :)

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for the reply Joel! I’ll send a link to it over this week. It lives in Google Docs. Can you shoot me an email so I know where to send it to?

        FYI – IFTTT has Evernote integration too!

  21. Thanks for the information! Made me think of two sites with interests in common:
    http://www.matthewcornell.org/ and http://quantifiedself.com.

    • Thanks for the helpful links, Rosemary. I get lumped in with folks who dig the Quantified Self movement pretty frequently (despite the fact that I’m not active in the movement). It’s kinda nuts … and kinda groovy at the same time! Just like me I suppose.

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