Last week, I was walking past Amber’s desk at at my job and (not that I was trying to snoop, but…) I noticed that she had Excel open on her computer and was just starting to fill out the first row – aka the names of her columns.  I have no idea which data she was gathering, but I felt my pace quicken with anticipation.  Will this spreadsheet sit in a network drive collecting cyber dust?  Will it be the basis of her summer internship project?  Will it be the spreadsheet of her dreams – or her worst nightmare?

img43oRight now, “the spreadsheet of my dreams” is a compilation of kitchen utensils, kitchen appliances, servewear, flatware and dishes.  My partner and I are moving into a shared apartment in August, and we have to stock our kitchen!  Whether you use spreadsheets for household budgeting, workout routines, live performances of your favorite band, or cross-country road trips – many of us have personal spreadsheet projects besides our changemaking spreadsheet projects.  Mine is Kitchen Wishlist 2018.

Rows, rows, rows … your boat

Ok, so lets get down to business.  In your spreadsheet, what are your rows?  Volunteers and contact information?  Donations and donation information?  Kitchen appliances and related information?  Action roles and action role information?  Concerts and concert information?  (Are you picking up the pattern here? the thing followed by information about the thing  – that info is captured in the columns)

You can get into trouble when you try to do too much with your rows.  For my Kitchen Wishlist 2018 spreadsheet, I decided to record my favorite choice without backups.  So there’s ONE row for ONE frying pan, ONE row for ONE set of mixing bowls, instead of having 5 or 6 different mixing bowl options (5 or 6 rows).  If I went the 5-6 option route, then I would probably have included a column that ranked them – and it would have been much harder to budget, given that we weren’t going to by 5 entire sets of mixing bowls!  Instead, I went the one-row-per-item route, and I included a column for “now/later/eventually” – as in, when are we going to get this item for our kitchen?  Are ya with me so far?

I encourage you to pick what your rows are going to represent and stick with it.  If you don’t… you might be up a creek without a paddle.  And we don’t want that!

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Columns, maybe?

No not those columns, ya goofball!  Columns aka fields in database-speak, are how you record info about your rows.  Donations?  Great!  From who?  how much?  When?  Cash or check?

Kitchen gadgets?  Ya don’t say!  Price?  Who recommended? What material? Two sets for kosher needs?  Now/later/eventually?

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It’s a good exercise to get deeper into what constitutes a column in a spreadsheet.  Sometimes they are descriptive and they’ll include phrases or even paragraphs (pro-tip: consider using the text wrap feature or inserting line breaks to make your cells easier to read)

Sometimes columns are purely numeric (Price, Amount, Number, Mileage, Rate, etc).  It’s helpful to use the Format Cells feature to make sure your numbers appear logically – as percents, currency values, etc, with the right number of decimal places.

Sometimes columns represent categories like “hot/medium/cold” or “Prefers call/prefers email/prefers text” or “now/later/eventually.”  For categories, you might want to use Data Validation to create little drop down menus of choices – you’ll thank yourself later!

I literally can’t believe that I’m making a Field of Dreams reference (I will never live this down), but the catch phrase is SO TRUE with spreadsheets.  “If you build it, they will come!”  Set up good, descriptive fields (aka columns) and when you add rows to your spreadsheet, you’ll enter all of the information you need.  Create good categories and good formatting from the get-go and before you know it, you’ll have an excellent system for keeping track of whatever you need, from birthday party attendees to wine glasses.  If you build it (your spreadsheet, with good logic), they will come (good data!)

Home, home on the range

I know it’s not funny if you have to explain it, but I can’t resist.  Range is another word for a combination of cells in a spreadsheet.  #PunIntended #Shameless

Today we had a nice, lazy morning with iced coffee, breakfast burritos and Kitchen Wishlist 2018.  Immediately, my partner suggested sorting by the”now, later, eventually” column so that we could be more strategic about our first purchases.  We moved some things from “now” until “later” because we didn’t truly need them in the first few months.  We fiddled around with subtotals and adjusted our preferences.  We could see our kitchen plans begin to take shape before our very eyes.

“Isn’t it great to have a partner who understands data?!” my partner teased, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Sure is!” I replied.

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