Sweat started running down my forehead. My heart started beating faster. I had tightened the grip of my mouse a couple of minutes earlier and I realized I had to relax my hand. First of all, because it could get painful for me; secondly and much more important, if I tightened just a fraction more, that mouse would almost certainly have shattered into tiny pieces.
“The task is simple, you’ve got all the data you need”, the manager had said about two hours earlier. “Just put it in a neat PowerPoint table. And it’s enough if you produce the report by 10pm.”
That meant I had the whole afternoon & evening on top of that!
However, over the first two hours, I had not made any progress whatsoever. I was working with spreadsheets that I used as source of data – and they should have contained basically THE SAME data. What I saw were hundreds of rows with names of employees, managers, dates, names of departments, lists of specializations, and hundred other things. I had no clue what they were doing there. Worst of all, when I tried to match and cross-reference the data from the two spreadsheets, it seemed like there were completely different datasets. The numbers didn’t add up. Entries that should have been in both files were missing in one of them. Entries that shouldn’t have been there at all were in both of the files – and contained contradictory information.
Best of all – there was nobody I could ask for help. The author was out of office on holiday.
“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this! Stupid Excel, stupid project, stupid management consulting! And this even isn’t management consulting, it’s just having to work with somebody else’s data that make no sense at all!”
Slamming the mouse on the table, I jumped up from my chair (locked my computer, to be sure – you can’t be too careful) and went outside from the office to get some fresh air.
It was freezing outside – and it helped me to cool down a bit. I took a deep breath. After a few moments, I was able to think more clearly. Well, at least one thing was now clear to me – no matter how I hated it, I had to get the report out by 10pm.
I came back to my desk and started working on making sense of the mess. Giving up on automation in form of INDEX/MATCH, I started reading the spreadsheets row by row and trying to get grips with, what the data really meant and how could an entry in one of the files be related to an entry in the other one.
Very, very slowly, I made progress. After 6 more hours of exhausting staring into the screen, scrolling, clicking and making hundreds of minor adjustments, I was able to create the report in requested form.
As I was sending the report placed in a PowerPoint slide to the manager I thought “One day wasted, this was the stupidest task I have ever worked on – and I just hope that I’ll never have to do it again.”
Two months later, 11am I start working on producing the same report, taking the same two files as the source (with fresh data, of course). Avicii’s I Could Be the One in my headphones, big smile on my face, I was now enjoying every moment. I knew exactly what changes to make – and not only that, I even knew in what order.
For the past two months, I had been producing the same report on a weekly basis. I had accepted the fact that I would have to do it regularly, so I had played with it a bit and I had broken the activity of report creation into a repeatable and manageable set of steps.
Rename the old file & update version. Create a new sheet based on the old one. Delete data in the blue columns. Paste table from George’s report into the blue columns. Update formula in column D… Seventeen more steps and the report would be ready.
By then, nobody else knew the data better than me. I was able to produce the report in less than 30 minutes. Including cross-check. A routine activity, yes – but a great relaxation too.
Same task. Different feelings.
What made the difference?
I’ve realized that I’ve heard this many times – but only now I really understood. If you don’t like doing something, it’s most probably because you’re not good at it, the outcome of your effort is unclear, you’re afraid you’ll screw up… Or something like that.
If it’s something you don’t have to do, there’s always the choice of not doing it. But if you don’t have the choice – just damn do it and get bloody good at it. As soon as possible. Chances are, you’ll change the torture into pleasure.