Use Excel in your daily work

I’m an Excel maniac. It’s even possible to say that almost everything I do I want to do in Excel. 

This might raise a question: as a technical writer, what can I use Excel for? Surely, I’m not using Excel when writing articles and manuals, aren’t I? 

This might be a common misconception, especially driven by the word “writer” in the name of my job position. “Writer” brings to our minds a dreamy image of a person licking the end of a pen and pondering over each word… 

In this article, I’ll try to show you some of the uses of Excel that really bring my work up to speed and make life easier.

Time tracking 

Most of the big companies require their employees to track their working time. There are various tools that can be used for this purpose. I’ve worked with four different ones but I guess it’s fair to say that most of them suck. That’s why, since my job no. 2 (in marketing), I’ve been tracking my working time in Excel and copying it to the target tool, let’s say, once a week.  

Sounds like more work?  

Maybe yes, maybe no, it depends on how we approach it. However, I can honestly say that I’ve been always the person who has never complained about time-tracking. 

OK, but let’s assume that it really saves my time. How does it happen? 

  • I have to open the tracking tool once a week or even a month, not every day. So let’s subtract a couple of seconds spent every day on signing into the tracking tool (and if you track your time in SAP, you also need to spend a couple of more seconds on opening the right transaction and navigating to the right date 🙄). 
  • I always prepare my time-tracking sheet so that it reflects the time-tracking tool. Then I can just copy and paste the whole row and not individual cells. So let’s subtract the time spend on clicking each field: date, task, category etc. Bear in mind that this might not work for every tool, but at least for SAP it does the trick. 
  • Counting of the time in some of the tools takes place after you save a given day. It looks as if time-tracking is important only for the tool itself! It’s very easy to make a mistake, especially when you try to enter many days at once. If you track your time in Excel this problem disappears, you can create your Excel sheet in a way that it calculates everything at once. This is especially useful if your working time is flexible. You can even set a conditional formatting to color-code the days where you worked less or more than 8 hours. Summing up, we can subtract quite a lot of time we spend on figuring out how all our tasks and their times add up to each other. 
  • In Excel, you can automate quite a lot of stuff. This might sound like something advanced, but it really isn’t. Sometimes the simplest thing, like a dropdown list, can make your life easier and save you a lot time. If you combine dropdown lists with clever, yet simple functions, you might create a powerful time-tracking tool that is just suited to your needs! 

Tasks tracking 

Being a technical writer very often means that you:

  • Work for multiple teams.
  • Document multiple products.
  • Frequently switch your focus areas.
  • All of the above.

It can be sometimes difficult when you have a lot of tasks assigned to you in your backlog. It’s even worse if all tasks or sub-tasks assigned to you are called “Prepare documentation”.

That’s why I think it might be a good idea to track your tasks separately in a worksheet. I’ve done it for three years.

What are the advantages of this solution? 

  • You can add your own titles for your tasks so that you know at once what are the tasks you need to do. 
  • You can leave some additional comments that you wouldn’t normally leave in your issue tracking tool. For example: “Change it also in version X when it’s released”. 
  • You can add some additional improvements to your tasks data base depending on your needs. For example, I have a column where I paste the path to documentation I created. Then, in another column, I have a function that automatically generates the message that I need to send if I want to get a review of this documentation.
  • You can set your own status. Sometimes the status of a documentation task might not be well reflected in your issue tracking tool. For example, usually there is no distinction between “technical” and “language” review, while the developers have the general status “in review”. 
  • You can filter your tasks easily. Filtering in issue tracking software is sometimes quite complicated. This might be a problem especially if your work for many teams. Tracking your issues in Excel allows you to quickly and easily sort, filter, and search through your documentation tasks.

Quick checks

Sometimes you need to check many versions or pages of your documentation. If the task is really complex, it’s good to create a list in Excel and track the progress, for example, using conditional formatting. 

“Plug-in” for a project tracking tool

If you frequently use some formatting in Jira or other tools, you can transfer it to Excel and using the Concatenate function quickly create descriptions or comments with necessary information. 

Stay tuned for posts with some tutorials about the above examples.

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