A Spotlight On When Expertise Makes Things Harder

I am a fairly advanced Excel user. For example, just this morning I created a lovely workbook so that one of the volunteers at Nottingham Industrial Museum can enter the time given by all volunteers and produce a simple report for our licencee (no, we don’t sell alcohol, but the charity operates under licence from Nottingham City Council – NCC). In this case, my objective was to save time for the volunteer and get the numbers needed for NCC. I felt this was easier done by hand (oh! sacrilege), but she wanted to stick to Excel as she also needs a total per volunteer, wants a quick way of seeing when a volunteer stops giving their time and isn’t comfortable with arithmetic. So, with a heavy heart, I set up a data entry table, a couple of pivot tables and a look-up table. We now have a very easy to use spreadsheet, that does all the hard work by automagic.

The opposite happened when I was looking for a host for my new website – it is time to move on from WordPress.com for my professional activities.

I started by working out what is important to me – in no particular order I came to: a customisable spam filter, WordPress compatible, servers in the UK, provides backups (that can be restored by individuals), subdomains, decent storage, unlimited bandwidth, price and provision of a domain. Given that I identified eleven potential hosts, this was a job crying out for a matrix and what better way to create a matrix than…a piece of scrap paper, a ruler and a pen. What no Excel, you might cry. My other half certainly did when I presented my decision to him later that day.

Decision matrix
Sometimes old school is just better

So why was this better?

  • The first thing that sticks out is that the technology didn’t get in the way of the task. In Excel I would have been tempted to make it a table and learn more about that functionality. I would have had to find a good way of indicating Yes or No and I would have spent time on the layout. In other words, using a piece of paper gave me  space to concentrate on the task in- hand.
  • The second thing is that I had a gazillion tabs open as none of these providers put all the information on one ‘page’. As several choose not to list it at all, I was also engaging in live chats and discussing options by email. Another window, even if it were the safe harbour of Excel, would have been another plate to spin.
  • The third thing is that little note to myself at the bottom of the page. I always have paper and pen to hand to make notes like this – otherwise, I forget. Excel would let me make the note, but would I ever see it again? I certainly don’t go through workbooks looking for notes, whereas a piece of paper right next to my keyboard gets my attention every time.
  • Finally, the sheer handiness. Notice how Freeola was added at the end? I am working with a brilliant web developer and they are his host of choice, so I added them after I started the task. I didn’t have to fire up Excel to do this, I grabbed a pen and added Freeola when I was doing something else entirely.

So that is my story for today. What is the takeaway? Pick the right tool for the job, remembering that the fanciest, most interesting tool may not be the best.

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