Sunday, March 7, 2021

A Spreadsheet Story

The main reason you won’t get a proper blog post this week is that it’s my middle child’s birthday weekend, and I’m at their beck and call.  But there’s another possibly vaguely (probably not really) interesting reason as well, so I thought I’d share it with you.

For most of my life, I’ve been one of those annoying OCD-but-disorganized people.  All my CDs had to be alphabetized just so, and the bills in my money clip had to be facing the same way, but all my workspaces were a horrible mess and I rarely had any firm concept of what I was supposed to be working on next.  A few years back I made a conscious decision to get myself organized: as we get older, it’s not so much that our brains lose the ability to juggle all those myriad of things we’re supposed to be remembering that we have to do, it’s more that we finally realize how terrible we were at it all along and that it’s only getting worse with age.  So I settled on a Method™ and ran with it.

The one I chose was Getting Things Done (sometimes referred to by its fans as GTD), and I learned a lot from it.  Which is not to say that I embraced it fully: the biggest issue I have with it is that David Allen, being about 20 years older than me (he’s actually about halfway between the ages of my mother and father), loves paper.  There’s lots of writing things on paper and filing paper and moving paper around.  I don’t do paper.  But of course the system can be adapted to computer software, and there are many GTD programs out there.  But part of the issue with being all OCD-y and a programmer is that I can’t adapt my way of working to someone else’s software: I gotta write my own.

So I created a massive Google Sheets spreadsheet with oodles of code macros (in Javascript, which I really don’t like to program in) and, whenever it does something I don’t like, I change it.  I can’t really say that it’s a proper implementation of GTD, but I’m sure that anyone familiar with GTD would recognize most of what’s going on in there.  I didn’t take GTD as a blueprint for exactly how to organize my shit, but I absorbed many of its lessons ... maybe that should be a whole blog post on its own.  But for now, I have to admit one thing.  A fuck up I made.

Back when I was originally designing my GTD-spreadsheet-monstrosity, I made a fateful decision.  When I complete a task, I don’t actually delete it ... I just mark it completed (by adding a date in the “Completed” column) and then it disappears from my “shit you need to do today” view.  But it’s still there.  Partially I did this because, as a programmer who mainly works with databases, I’ve had many years of conditioning that you never delete data because you always regret it later, and partially because I thought it would be cool to have a record of everything I’d accomplished (so now my todo list is also my diary).  Sounded perfectly rational at the time.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of how GTD works, but one of its main concepts is that you track everything. EVERYTHING.  This gives you a lot of confidence that you haven’t forgotten anything, because, you know ... you track everything.  I’m coming up on my 4-year anniversary of tracking everything in my spreadsheet and I’ve accumulated over 15 thousand items: tasks, longer blocks of time for projects, things I was waiting on other people to get back to me on, etc etc etc.  It works out to about 4 thousand a year, and I shouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually increasing over time and I’m soon to hit 5 grand.  Now, if you’re a big spreadsheet person (as many people are these days, in many different areas of business) you may have heard technogeeks tell you not to use a spreadsheet as a database.  Being a technogeek myself, I knew this perfectly well ... and I did it anyway.  I did it advisedly, for reasons of expediency.  Because I didn’t want to spend months trying to develop my own application from scratch, putitng me even further behind on getting organized.  The point was to get up and running quickly, which I did.  But now I’m paying the price.

This weekend, while sitting around waiting for my child to inform me of the next videogame I was drafted into playing or the next meal I was conscripted into obtaining, I had a brainstorm about how to make this system way more efficient.  It’s not a proper fix, but it would radically decrease the time I currently spend sitting around waiting for my spreadsheet to respond, so I figured I better do it.  I thought: this won’t be too hard to do.  Of course, it was harder than I thought—it’s always harder than you think—and I haven’t gotten things completely back to normal yet (and I stayed up way too late last night), but I made some really great strides, and I’m seeing an even bigger speed-up than I thought.  So I’m pretty pleased.  Even though I’ll probably be fucking with it for the next several weeks.

So that’s why I have no time to make a proper post.  Except mainly the birthday thing.  Next week will be better, I’m sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment