Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Excel for Self Improvement

If you haven't already guessed I'm a huge Excel fan. I spend more time on Excel than almost any other program on my computer. Since my current job deals exclusively with data I'm constantly working in one spreadsheet or another. When I first started I hated the program. It was boring and confusing to use. But that's just because I didn't know what I was doing.

Everything changed for me when I started using spreadsheets for personal things. Jeff has regularly used them to do our taxes but I always figured that as just more boring number crunching. Then one afternoon right before one of our trips I worked out a trip countdown spreadsheet. Using autofills and formulas I created a rather useful countdown that I could actually watch our progress on. I was instantly hooked. Here was a fun use for what seemed like a boring program. Excel allowed me to create countdowns, databases, and most importantly, goal trackers.

I've always been a bit of a list maker. I create lists of books I've read, places I've been, quotes I like, and goals I want to achieve. One of the hard things about setting goals for me is not having any way of tracking them. If I set the goal that I want to write more I have no way to measure that. After a couple days of concentrated effort I fall off the wagon without ever really noticing. I just wake up one morning and don't think about it. The same with my ideas for weight loss. I find that I do better if I break my big goal into smaller goals. The goal then stays in the front of my mind. That's where Excel comes in.

I've created spreadsheets for my weight loss plan. I track the pounds that I've lost on one sheet and my daily calorie intake on another. Using basic formulas I can simply plug in the number of calories I've eaten and the computer will list how many I have left for the day. I can also track my exercise for the day and match that against my weekly goals. Even if I fall short for a couple days I'm still keeping the goal at the front of my mind. I'm still working towards it.

I do the same with writing, setting workable goals for each day and then goals for the long term. My plan was to be writing 1000 words a day, not a ton but enough that it's a bit of a time commitment. I'd been failing to make that mark (not counting blog writing) and have been giving up entirely. I used to figure that if I wasn't reaching my big goal, it was never going to happen. Now I break that goal up. I'm starting with 200 words a day, an easy goal to achieve. Every month I move that up by 50. If I go over, no big deal, but at least I should be writing that many words. I keep increasing until I reach 1000. But those little goals are the secret.

I've finally realized that consistency is more important than talent. Consistency is more important than willpower. Consistency (creating a habit) is the only way I know to achieve my goals. And Excel helps me break them down. Helps make me accountable. Even if it's only to myself. I know it seems strange (and reading back through this makes me feel a bit like the crazy list-lady) but so far it's been working for me. On my writing desk I have a great quote from children's writer Kate DiCamillo, "I decided a long time ago that I didn't have to be talented. I just had to be persistent, and that that was something that I could control...". Every time I mark a box complete, or stay under my calories for the day, I think about persistence. And how Excel hopefully helps me to achieve it. Hey, whatever works.


Salt said...

I know it takes a lot of the "Fun" part out of it, but you can write a formula in Excel that will check the box for you if you complete the goal. :-)

Cat B said...

Really? Okay that's cool. I'd actually love to learn that one. Either email me with it, or post it here. Or I look it up (actually use those research skills of mine). Thanks Salt!

Cat B said...

WooHoo!!! Figured it out. I hadn't played with If/Then formulas before. Fun! Yeah I know I'm a geek when I get excited about Excel formulas. Still, I thought it was cool!

Salt said...

I had no doubt of your abilities. :-)

It's part of the "Fun" to figure things out.