Train Life

I set myself a couple of challenges with my New Years Resolutions this year: firstly, to reduce my carbon footprint and secondly to use my time more effectively.

So the first change to make on the way to achieving these goals was to switch the car for the train where possible. Admittedly I am lucky to live within a stone’s throw of the Tarka Line between North Devon and Exeter, but even so I have been surprised by the outcome.

First of all the train is cheaper than driving in to Exeter, especially when you add the cost of parking. And it achieved my primary objective of reducing my car’s carbon emissions.

In addition to this I can sit on the train working, reading, or writing (blog posts for example!). I try to spend my driving time listening to audiobooks and while this is mostly educational it always feels like using up dead time rather than being productive time.

So far so good, these are the changes I expected to see. But I have noticed other changes that I didn’t expect:

I have to be more organised – I think I’m pretty organised with my client work, but planning of my personal time is always far from being a priority. Now I am making more time for getting to and from events, so I am more relaxed and more likely to be on time!

I’m walking more, to and from the station, which I hadn’t realised would happen. And it’s through the centre of Exeter past all the lovely shops; because I’m walking I can I actually appreciate it, rather than just grabbing essentials at service stations.

Finally while I like to think that I am comfortable with new situations, I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve had to learn (read this as how many times I’ve had to ask people for more information!) and this has highlighted how stuck in my ways I’ve got.

I’ve learnt loads about the Tarka Line, needing time request that I stops at the right place, needing to find out which platform to be on (sometimes there’s just one, for both directions!), how long it takes to walk across Exeter, and how to solve the various problems that have already sprung up.

Plus I’ve learnt more tedious things like how my laptop bag isn’t as waterproof as I had thought and how I need to reconsider my handbag choices so that I can carry my insulated coffee cup around after its been emptied!

The bottom line is that I am loving the train travel, even without considering the money or carbon saved. So from next week I’ll be using the train for travel north into Barnstaple and I’m ready to consider the next change to make.

Spreadsheet growing pains

In my LinkedIn feed there seems to be a lot of posts about automating processes so that your business “back office” runs seamlessly in the cloud without apparently needing much human input.

This is great: who doesn’t love getting computers to do the dull and boring processing (which basically amounts to copying) freeing us humans up to do more valuable (and hopefully more interesting) work?

But what about the recording that can’t be automated?

Sometimes it’s good to record figures manually, even when it comes to accounts. I have a client who could happily automate their purchase ledger, saving time and money, but they would rather process purchase invoices manually in order to check that the invoices are correct and keep an eye on spending.

And sometimes there is no off the shelf package to record and analyse the figures just the way you want to, and that’s usually where excel comes in. Just before Christmas I was working on a project with a different client who has a totally bespoke spreadsheet to manage her sales team’s pipelines and another to record productivity information for a team of 50. Once again, while it may be possible to find “an app for that” there is a lot of value in keying in the data by hand.

However the principles of automation still apply to spreadsheets; it’s worth entering the data once, but more than once is a waste of time and gives rise to potential errors. In the case before Christmas part of the project was to condense 26 separate spreadsheets into just the 1.

I’ve waited to post about this until we have had a chance to review the success of the new set up, but yesterday the office manager told me how grateful the team are that their workload has been transformed! So if you rely on spreadsheets, but you’re starting to think that as your business grows they’re not working quite so well then give me a call and we can review your system and make it work more effectively.