Career https://www.thekeycuts.com Tue, 27 Feb 2018 16:06:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 This is a podcast made by a lifelong analyst. I cover topics including Excel, data analysis, and tools for sharing data. In addition to data analysis topics, I may also cover topics related to software engineering and building applications. I also do a roundup of my favorite podcasts and episodes. KeyCuts clean episodic KeyCuts info@thekeycuts.com info@thekeycuts.com (KeyCuts) A show made for analysts: data, data analysis, and software. Career https://www.thekeycuts.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/dear_analyst_logo-1.png https://www.thekeycuts.com/excel-blog/ New York, NY 50542147 Productivity Apps to Help Your Team https://www.thekeycuts.com/productivity-apps-to-help-your-team/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/productivity-apps-to-help-your-team/#respond Tue, 27 Feb 2018 01:58:16 +0000 https://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=48441 Following the last post about productivity tools and cloud computing, I did some more research on productivity apps to help your team collaborate and work more effectively. The main criteria are that the app had to be 1) browser-based (reasons for this mentioned in the previous post) and 2) multi-user collaboration is allowed. Having been an early […]

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Following the last post about productivity tools and cloud computing, I did some more research on productivity apps to help your team collaborate and work more effectively. The main criteria are that the app had to be 1) browser-based (reasons for this mentioned in the previous post) and 2) multi-user collaboration is allowed. Having been an early user of Coda, I have had the most experience building in this tool compared to the other apps mentioned in this post. I plan on experimenting and tinkering with various apps to learn more about how teams are finding ways to be more productive.

Productivity Apps All Started With Google

Given the number of new productivity apps out there, let’s not forget where everything started: Google Docs and Google Sheets. Do you remember the first time you used a Google Doc and could see (in real-time) the changes all your friends and teammates were making to the doc?

First time seeing real-time changes in a Google Doc

Before real-time collaboration in a spreadsheet or word document, “real-time” meant you could set a feature in Excel called “Share Workbook” and then check off a setting allowing multiple users to edit the workbook. So if person A made a change, they would have to first hit Save, and person B would be able to “see” the changes in their Excel file if they constantly “updated” the file to include changes from other collaborators. If there were conflicts, you had to review them one by one and decide on how to resolve a situation where person A and person B tried editing the same cell. This user experience in Excel was a smidge more user-friendly than a git merge conflict.

Microsoft, of course, has caught up with the times with Office 365 and Excel Online allowing real-time collaboration.

Modern Tools for the Modern Team

Your team can’t be caught using a tool from the 1980s when “fancy” tools like Slack and Trello around. There have been earnest efforts to bring spreadsheet and word docs out of our hard drives and into the browser for several years. I first wrote about this in 2014 when I came across a tool called Appizy. Appizy may have been ahead of its time since real-time collaboration looks like a feature that just started taking off in the workplace over the last 1-2 years. It feels backward now to save anything to your hard drive when there exists an opportunity to put the doc, spreadsheet, or wiki online for team collaboration.

For all these productivity apps, I use Google Docs as the common denominator for context. Productivity apps claim to serve a wide audience, but in reality are probably dedicated to a user base with a specific need which I try summarize for each app.

Coda

Google Docs with the ability to put aspects of Google Sheets into your doc.

As I mentioned earlier, I have had the most experience with this app among the other productivity apps mentioned in this post. The reason why this tool has been interesting to use is that it has the most Excel-like features relative to other productivity apps. At the heart of Coda is the table and the ability to link tables together to create a mini relational database. Building and app-like interface and regular text editing is not as feature-rich as of now, but the data and table structure surpass other productivity apps on the market. Coda is still in beta and has a waitlist.

Bottom Line for Teams: If you are doing any back-of-the-envelope modeling (e.g. in Google Sheets) involving numbers and to make business decisions, Coda is for you. 

Here is a brief tutorial on using tables in Coda:

Airtable

Google Sheets with a more user-friendly interface and project management features.

Airtable is probably the closest to Coda in terms of extending the functionality of a table with custom column formats, relational data structure, and customized views. I think some of the features in Airtable make it more robust than Coda and as flexible as Excel or Google Sheets. There aren’t any cell references just like in Coda, so when doing custom calculations you are referencing the column name versus an individual cell reference.

Airtable supports the Trello-like kanban view and grouped rows seen in Coda which are lacking in Google Sheets and Excel. Given that Airtable is more like a spreadsheet than a doc, you lose the flexibility of writing free-flowing text and referencing “cells” in your doc like you can in Coda. The template gallery is definitely very diverse so converting your existing workflow from Salesforce, Trello, or Hubspot to Airtable should be seamless. Given the spreadsheet-like nature of Airtable, “creative” work does not seem as feasible with this app compared to other tools.

Bottom Line for Teams: Closest (free) tool you will get to Google Sheets or Excel where project management and tracking deliverables is key to your business. 

Dropbox Paper

Google Docs with an editor that feels like writing a blog post in Medium.

Dropbox Paper is on the opposite side of the spectrum and gives you the functionality, look, and feel of Google Docs with some extra features. When editing a Dropbox Paper doc, it feels like you are editing a blog post in Medium. As you hover over each empty row in Paper, you have the ability to insert rich media like videos, tables, and yes, your Dropbox files. The tables are definitely nowhere near as robust as Coda or Airtable, but this is intentional since Paper appears to be geared towards more creative teams where Dropbox is already being used as a storage platform for the team. Aside from a more user-friendly view of assigning tasks (i.e. a checklist) to members on your team, the core functionality is similar to Google Docs in terms of adding in comments, doc organization, and inserting media.

Bottom Line for Teams: Teams already using Dropbox for storage may find this tool useful for referencing Dropbox files in a free-form doc, otherwise Google Docs will serve most use cases.

Slite

Google Docs with a much better doc management system and Slack-like features.

Probably the sleekest and most well-designed app of the bunch, Slite will be an Slacker’s dream because it feels and works like Slack. Channels along the the left sidebar act as the doc management system and the core of Slite is free-form “notes.” Instead of your teammates Slacking each other, they write all their thoughts and deliverables on notes which act as a knowledge management repository if you had to put the tool in more formal terms. With Google Docs, you can review edits from other team members on the doc when you re-open the doc. In Slite, you get real-time notifications about changes to notes so if you are a hardcore Slacker and enjoy being notified about edits, this app ensures you don’t get doc FOMO.

The table functionality and note editing feels similar to Dropbox Paper, but the organization of notes is where Slite shines. It cannot be stressed enough how similar the features feel to Slack. Searching notes in Slite is like searching conversations in Slack. I think the use case for Slite definitely favors the small startups and teams where there may be remote workers and keeping track of your team’s progress in real-time is critical to the next product launch or business decision.

Bottom Line for Teams: Flexibility, speed, and conversation-like text are more important features than formatting and tables for your team. Your team is most likely a startup looking for a familiar feeling app (Slack) to track progress.

Quip

Google Docs (with a ton of extra features), Google Sheets, and Slack existing together in a software-like suite

G Suite is to Google as Quip is to Salesforce. We wrote about Quip back in 2016 before the Salesforce acquisition and at the time it was a souped up version of Google Docs and Sheets given the neat chat features. Now, Quip is a fully-featured suite of products that takes real discipline by your team to commit to using all aspects of the product to maximize the $30/month price tag. Sure, it’s no monolithic Microsoft license but it’s also not something you can implement easily for your team like Slite, Airtable, or Coda.

The spreadsheet “doc” is the closest thing you’ll see to Excel or Google Sheets (even closer than Airtable). Doc editing is similar to the other apps mentioned so far but mentioning “@” is much more powerful compared to Coda and other apps. You can reference Kanban boards, calendars, and spreadsheets which fills your doc with more than just text. Each tool within Quip could be an app by itself, and it doesn’t feel like all the products mesh well together (save the @ referencing in a doc) so it’s more similar to G Suite than a standalone app.

Bottom Line for Teams: If you already have a Salesforce subscription or don’t have G Suite, chances are you’ve come across or have been pitched the Quip suite.

Notion

Google Docs with much simpler method to embed rich objects and better document management system.

Notion is another tool benefiting from the prevalence of Slack in the workplace. Changes to any page in your “workspace” can be pushed to Slack so that everyone stays up to date on all edits versus opening up a Google Doc and seeing all the edits made by the team. Whether you prefer to see the notification in the app (Slite) or in Slack itself, I would seriously consider the use case for real-time notifications and the productivity tradeoff inherent in this feature. For small scrappy teams, the real-time editing and collaboration may be key to the survival for your startup, but for longer term projects that go beyond the social media push for a product launch, having your entire team monitoring changes to a doc may not be the best use of time.

Back to Notion. The page management in the left sidebar feels very similar to Coda’s section and folder management (eerily similar with the emojis used for page titles). It is apparent a lot of work was put into embedding “blocks” into a page such as Tweets, Google Docs and Sheets, and even GitHub Gists! Notion probably has the most robust embedding feature out of all the apps mentioned. No table or spreadsheets are available in this app (on the product roadmap) but the wiki use case is extremely evident given the embedding features. Pricing model is clever as it’s based on the number of “blocks” you create in your workspace; once you hit 600 blocks (e.g. to-do items, embedded file, etc.) the $8/user/mo kicks in.

Bottom Line for Teams: Mini-suite of doc, wiki, and tasks products that work well together for project or product management teams. 

Closing Thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, real-time collaboration between the members on your team is not only a criteria for this list, but a default feature for team productivity. Unless you are using highly-specialized software to accomplish a specific task (e.g. 3-D graphic design, financial statement analysis), it would be backwards to consider software that does not allow multi-user collaboration.

As this post hopefully shows, there is no one app that can solve all your team’s productivity needs. The best app for your team will change as your team evolves from a small team working on getting product-market fit (where Slite may be a good solution) to mature products with various teams and functions collaborating (enter Quip).

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3 Strategies To Learn Excel Faster https://www.thekeycuts.com/5-strategies-to-learning-excel-faster/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/5-strategies-to-learning-excel-faster/#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:59:06 +0000 https://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=48389 I get this question quite often, and I went over to Quora to see how other Excel experts and analysts are providing advice to newbies on how to learn Excel. If you are curious, my answers to Excel questions have been viewed more than 400,000 times. This shows that people are still using a tool […]

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I get this question quite often, and I went over to Quora to see how other Excel experts and analysts are providing advice to newbies on how to learn Excel. If you are curious, my answers to Excel questions have been viewed more than 400,000 times. This shows that people are still using a tool that was created almost 30 years ago!

Excel ad from 1985

Anyway, back to how to learn Excel faster. Here are a few answers I found on Quora:

“Get some raw data and trying to answer questions with it.”

“Master the 20% of functions that make 80% of Excel work.”

“Use keyboard shortcuts.”

“First, find a project. Then, use the Internet to answer whatever questions you run into.”

The last tip is probably my favorite one out of the bunch. “Use keyboard shortcuts” is like telling someone who doesn’t know how to drive to use a stick shift for greater control.

I learned from job necessity, which is how I think most people learn. When you are thrown into the deep-end, you will quickly learn how to swim to stay alive. However, I think how people learn be it through your job or personal life is important to discuss, which is why I’m writing down these three strategies. As you zone out for the holidays, here are three tips to keep in mind when you return to the office in the near year.

#1: Answer Questions About Open Government Data

This is actually in-line with the first answer from Quora. Take any open data set and try to answer questions about the data. This is the main reason we use Excel, right? Take a spreadsheet of numbers and text and get some interesting insights from it based on some provided questions. Here, I’ll even do the work for you. Check out this dataset about soybean imports Data.gov. Answer questions like which country had the highest average imports over the last 10 years? What caused imports to decrease 5 years ago? Which countries experienced the most growth since the beginning of time? These questions force you to look for formulas and do calculations to find the answer.

#2: Watch YouTube Videos For Frameworks

Who doesn’t watch YouTube videos these days to learn a new skill? The reason I suggest watching YouTube videos is to understand Excel patterns for building and structuring your worksheet or model. You may know how to use formulas and play with tables, but putting things all together is sometimes difficult if you don’t have a template. In a work environment, you have the benefit of inheriting someone else’s Excel file which will have their formatting and styles all set up, you are just plugging in values. The best way to learn is to dissect a file from someone who is an experienced Excel analyst. From looking at their file, you can start to build your own patterns of formula building and formatting.

#3: Track Your Expenses In Google Sheets For A Week

You may already be using Mint or your credit card’s own expense tracking system, but I recommend doing it by hand in Google Sheets for a week. The reason is it forces you to set up a basic table of data and more importantly, seeing the numbers behind your spending habits has a tremendous impact on your psychology and biases. When you are collecting your own data vs. data from work, the analysis becomes much more personal and you are much more inclined to answer questions like: Where did I spend the most money this week? Did I really eat out THAT much? Why does my average spend increase at the end of the month? Working on a “personal” data set will encourage you to use Excel if you don’t have a job or some other forcing function requiring you to use Excel.

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Do Productivity Apps Actually Change Your Behavior? https://www.thekeycuts.com/productivity-budgeting-apps-actually-change-behavior/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/productivity-budgeting-apps-actually-change-behavior/#respond Mon, 16 May 2016 11:18:40 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=36245 The modern-day white collar worker is easily distracted. I don’t care if you work in advertising, finance, or the public sector. If you are sitting in front of a computer a majority of the day and have a smartphone, you will not be productive. Checking Facebook/Instagram/Buzzfeed is unavoidable in the case you miss out on the […]

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The modern-day white collar worker is easily distracted. I don’t care if you work in advertising, finance, or the public sector. If you are sitting in front of a computer a majority of the day and have a smartphone, you will not be productive. Checking Facebook/Instagram/Buzzfeed is unavoidable in the case you miss out on the latest way to make healthy meals from peanut butter. Banging out some texts on WhatsApp while you’re on the toilet is a no-brainer–or in my case–getting in a raid on Clash of Clans. Since we all get distracted, a plethora of self-help listicles from Forbes and productivity apps have popped up to help us creative class-types be more productive. But do they really work?

When I have to write work e-mails before I’ve had coffee (source: What Should We Call Me)

 

Before I get into the apps, how they work, and what I think of them, the first question I have for the baby boomers out there is how did white collar workers get through the workday pre-Internet and smartphone? There were no digital distractions, let’s call it that, but surely there must have been other ways to kill time, or were workers simply more productive? The only perspective I have about work culture from the 70s, 80s, and 90s is from Mad Men. Maybe people just drank more? Hung out at colleagues’ desks more to talk? Maybe the distractions were actually healthier since they involved human interaction rather than LED screens. I’ve never had a desk job where I didn’t have the Internet, so don’t know how people got distracted “back in the day.” Having worked in the service industry, you’re on your feet during your entire shift and there really isn’t much time to, well, kill time.

The Measured Self

Ever since I read the 4-hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, I became obsessed with this notion of the “measured self.” There are probably many eloquent ways of describing what this phrase means, but I see it as a lifestyle choice to quantify the the decisions you make in your life to inform your future decisions. The most basic example of this is keeping a budget. Prior to all these consumer budgeting apps, I used to keep track of my budget in Excel (I still know people who still use Excel for their budgeting purposes out of habit):

Keeping a budget in Excel 2003 (Source: Paranoid Asteroid)

 

You know it’s old school when the Excel version is 2003! From Excel, I moved to Microsoft Money which was sold as “personal finance management software” as reported by the trusty folks at Wikipedia. I would diligently track every single expense whether it was cash or credit, and this ultimately became just like Excel in terms of its clunkiness:

I remember you too well MSN (source: PC World)

 

Then, of course, came the grand daddy of all personal finance management tools: Mint. I still log my cash expenses in Mint and all my credit card expenses automatically appear since Mint talks with all the major banks and brokerages. We’ll talk more about Mint later.

Returning back to the notion of the measured self, I started following more of Tim Ferriss’ advice with quantifying things like your workouts, nutrition, and even sleep a la  The 4-Hour Body (I really should get a kickback on mentioning Tim’s books all the time. Speaking of which, I just signed up for Amazon Associates and put in those links just now. Affiliate links ftw.) Tim goes the extra step with quantifying his body such as weighing his feces and drawing his own blood to monitor his bodily chemicals. I wouldn’t say I take it that far, but you can see how crazy your measurement can get. I have friends who are CrossFit and body-builder types who weigh their foods and do all that proportioning shit; but my goals aren’t to win a bodybuilding competition so I don’t take it that far.

The reason I measure everything from spending to the weights I lift is to track my progress and monitor trends. The weight room is one of the easiest places to measure and experiment because you can see whether the hard work you put in last week translates into a bigger lift. Spending and budgeting, however, are a little different. I’ll get into how I use Mint and a new app I’ve been trying out for a few weeks called RescueTime (which also came as a recommendation from one of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts).

Do You Really Want To Know How Much Money You Spend?

Through anecdotes, the number one reason I hear people say they don’t use Mint, or any personal budgeting software for that reason, is they don’t want to know how much they’re spending on clothes, food, and entertainment because it would make them feel bad emotionally. Ignorance is bliss right? It’s like taking a bite into a Whopper with bacon and being content with how it tastes rather than knowing the 100 grams of fat will clog your arteries. I get it, it’s human behavior.

When service is bad at brunch and my food finally comes out (Source: What Should We Call Me)

 

Mint espouses all these great features like keeping a budget, helping you see trends in your spending, and relatively recently showing you your credit score. The credit score feature is actually pretty awesome because I remember when you had to download these huge PDF reports from Experian showing how on time you are with your credit card payments. While all these features of Mint are great, the main way I utilize Mint is for seeing my entire financial situation in one place. It’s almost like putting everything down on the table and showing how much you’re worth (literally) which is both liberating and sobering. Instead of having to log into 5 different banking websites, I can track the balances across all my accounts (which is frightening in a way since Mint now has access to my entire financial profile).

Beyond this feature, Mint has turned me into a creature of habit. I have been classifying every single personal and business expense since I integrated all my accounts into the platform. This might be the anal accountant speaking through, but see an uncategorized transaction in Mint is like seeing a scab that has ripped off 90% of the way and I can’t help but peel it off. Mint does a good job of classifying common transactions, but for the one offs that’s where I set up my own categories and classifications. I do all this for the greater good of being able to track and monitor my spending over time.

This leads me to the ultimate question, does the monitoring actually change my behavior? In the last year, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve looked at the “Trends” tab in Mint. The whole point of classifying your transactions is so that you can see how much you’re spending on food, transportation, etc. In theory, personal finance pundits say something to the effect of “now that you know how much you’re spending on Starbucks, you know what parts of your life you can cut back!” Here’s a snapshot of my spending last month:

spending

I’m looking at the major categories like Home (rent), Food & Dining (eating out), and Health & Fitness (physical therapy sessions on a bum knee). These are all expenses I have to spend. Maybe I’m just not a careless spender who sees a brand new vacuum at Macy’s and realizes I have to have that powerful suction in my life. Or maybe I’m not doing a deeper enough analysis into my spending habits to see where my money is really going.

I’ve spent 30 minutes or so analyzing my spending over time and I always find ways to justify them. Whether that’s bad or good, the bottom line is that just monitoring the trends is not altering my behavior

It’s one thing to look at your spending patterns and make a conscious decision to completely change your habits because you are buying too many vacuums, but my guess is that the type of person who is using Mint already has pretty good control of their spending habits and has a pretty deep understanding of their financial situation.

It’s almost like the type of user Mint attracts is exactly the type of person who wouldn’t need the tool in the first place. I might just not be the right user or I’m not using Mint the right way, but I still go on buying the normal food and Metrocards that I do because I am not saving up to buy a house or car, and not planning for a wedding and babies. Maybe that’s how Mint should approach its marketing from now on:

Buying a car? Thinking about popping the question? We’ll tell you just how much debt you’re in so you’ll know how many nights a week you’ll need to eat ramen and PB&J. – Yours Truly, Mint

RescueTime Tracks Your Productivity On Your Laptop And Phone

At the recommendation of a Tim Ferriss podcast I mentioned earlier, I downloaded RescueTime on my Macbook and phone to track my productivity across websites and apps. In a nutshell, RescueTime runs in the background on your laptop and phone to show you how much time you spend on actual work versus browsing on Facebook or other social networking sites. In my mind, the value proposition was simple: we measure your entire day of “work” to see how much work you actually do. You’ll be surprised by how distracted you actually are during the day!

I think the shock value of how much time you are distracted from work was the main takeaway for me. Thinking back to the start of this story, if you knew how much employees were being distracted during the day (fully knowing they were being distracted), would the numbers cause you to block certain websites on the corporate network or lead you to establish a no-personal-email policy in the workplace? That type of knee-jerk reaction to the numbers may be detrimental to employee morale, but that’s a whole other subject.

Here’s a log of my hours from last week:

rescuetime

This is all the activity from my Macbook and phone over 7 days. The biggest stat for me was the amount of time spent on “Communication & Scheduling,” aka Gmail and Google Calendar. The other categories make sense to me. Did a little bit of programming, browsing on LinkedIn, and some games on my phone. The “Productivity Pulse” is the shock value factor that, in my opinion, is supposed to make you go “Holy shit I spend way too much time goofing off at work.” 9 hours and 39 minutes of my time last week was classified as being “too distracted,” which means playing games on my phone and browsing social media.

If we dig a little deeper into some of the apps that are productive, neutral, and distracting:

rescuetime2

The purple bars are the “neutral” apps like Gmail but I would consider those productive apps since I am doing all my business e-mail in Gmail. The blue bars are the “most productive” apps like Sublime and localhost (programming-related activities), and the red bars are the evil distracters. For me, the Instagram/Facebook combo are a time suck (about 4 hours last week) and Clash of Clans (damn you Supercell!) taking up 2 hours and 35 minutes.

From a categorical perspective:

rescuetime3

Now the “shock” becomes a little more clear. I spend more than half as much time on “very distracting” apps relative to the “very productive” time. The neutral category is again a bit of a misnomer since some of those apps are productive (like Gmail), so in order to make this a true comparison I would need to go back and classify the time correctly. As if classifying my expenses on Mint wasn’t enough already.

Knowing Your Productivity Doesn’t Lead To Being More Productive

Similar to the inefficacy of Mint curtailing my spending habits, RescueTime hasn’t given me enough of an impetus to change my productivity habits either. Simply knowing that I’m distracted is great, I already knew that. I now feel more guilty every time I load up Clash of Clans knowing that it’s going to add to my “distraction” bucket. The simple of act of knowing is not enough, there needs to be a monetary incentive tied to this data to really initiate a behavior change. This is why I think apps like Fitocracy have become successful because you’re paying for a coach to guide and train you and you’re putting money on the line to make this change happen.

With RescueTime, the reporting affirms that I spend too much time e-mailing and playing games on my phone. What really inspired me to change is reading studies about the addictive nature of e-mail and the quantifiable productivity gains achieved from checking your e-mail twice a day and not reacting to stuff coming into you inbox. The RescueTime data just gives me the calorie count on the Big Mac I already knew was bad for me, now I just feel a little more guilty eating the burger.

Being able to measure your productivity is great, but without a prescription for change, or true purpose for the data, I decided to get rid of RescueTime from my digital footprint. Don’t get me wrong, people still love the numbers and stats. On the RescueTime website, a few testimonials stood out to me:

davidreeves
The testimonials are all great (they’d better be if you’re featuring them on your site). At the end of David’s testimonial, he says RescueTime is great for “anyone who wants to be intentional about improving their productivity.” I read that as this app is good at getting you on the path to changing your behavior, but that’s all it’s good for. It’s like saying getting your first month free at the gym is a great deal for you to start losing weight and building muscle, but you still have to get your ass to the gym and actually do stuff to see results. Maybe I’m being a bit cynical, and this app is good at providing surface-level type of change, but that’s as far as it goes.

This second testimonial shows a real business case where I think RescueTime can really make a difference:

matteverson

Imagine if clients held lawyers and consultants to the actual billable hours they worked on projects related to their businesses using RescueTime? That would be game changer. Matt’s testimonial about how he was able to quantify his entire year with 75% of it being billable to his client shows transparency in his design process. Perhaps the best use case for RescueTime is enterprise (I know it’s the easiest cop out for tech startups) but the existing framework for vendors logging billable hours is still pretty antiquated. With complete tracking and monitoring and actual revenue tied to the apps and websites you spend your time on, your behavior would definitely change to ensure your maximizing productivity since it impacts the bottom line for your company.

We took a circuitous route from the old days of logging things in Excel to the measured self to inspiring actual behavior change. I think for many out there, just knowing is the first step in optimizing your financial situation and work habits. At the same time, I’m starting to see the nonchalant response to measuring and tracking every single second of your life: it’s just too much work and I don’t want to know exactly what I spend my money and time on! On top of that, now you’re spending more precious time poring through all the data, generating reports, and affirming that you do play too much Clash of Clans and spend too much on eating out. Why not just live your life (within reason and moderation) and the numbers will eventually balance themselves out?

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Why You Should Stop Doing Manual Spreadsheet Work https://www.thekeycuts.com/why-you-should-stop-doing-manual-spreadsheet-work/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/why-you-should-stop-doing-manual-spreadsheet-work/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 22:48:54 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=23566 Copying and pasting from one cell to another? Sorting through data trying to find the signal from the noise? Up-level this and go through your entire day when you’re sitting at your desk doing “work.” Creating calendar invites, copying and pasting from Excel into PowerPoint, formatting a spreadsheet until it’s perfect. These are things people generally consider to […]

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Copying and pasting from one cell to another? Sorting through data trying to find the signal from the noise? Up-level this and go through your entire day when you’re sitting at your desk doing “work.” Creating calendar invites, copying and pasting from Excel into PowerPoint, formatting a spreadsheet until it’s perfect. These are things people generally consider to be their “job” yet complain about how mind-numbing the work actually is.

That’s all this work is: mind-numbing.

Most consultants and business analysts are introduced to Excel and learn quickly how to do do things faster like a paste special using keyboard shortcuts. In terms of writing formulas and functions, they’ll have their go-to functions like VLOOKUP(), INDEX(), and MATCH(). Back when I was an an analyst, ASAP Utilities was not widely known but many of my colleagues across all parts of the organization were using this nifty little Excel plugin. The value was clear; this plug-in saved you time in terms of stripping out text and structuring your sheet.

Learning just one new simple hack or shortcut to save you time is great, imagine having a whole handful of these shortcuts in one nice neat package? The problem is that people want more from ASAP Utilities, and like how you can select cells based on color and content but want to be able to select by cell location, for instance. There are always new cases that ASAP cannot solve or any new plugin cannot solve, which leaves you with two options:

  1. Do the manual work (ugh. sucks.)
  2. Write your own tool (huh?)

Try To Eliminate Your Job

I wrote in the past about how I pretty much eliminated my job by using VBA to create hundreds of reports for me with the click of a button. It was empowering to know that I could eliminate my job. While ASAP Utilities and other plugins were able to automate 50% of my job, I looked into new formulas and eventually VBA to figure out how repetitive tasks that were unique to my work could be automated. Each percentage of the job that I automated led me to want to automate the next percent, and the percent after that. I became obsessed with not doing any manual work since it is a waste of your MBA-educated and executive-trained time.

People complain that their work is mind-numbing but are not willing to put in the time and patience to understand how they can improve their situation. Does the engineer send you the report late every week? Research how he or she is pulling the data and see if you can pull the data yourself. Are there formatting mistakes in the PowerPoint? Look into slide masters or tying the source for graphs back to the actual Excel file. Each step of your job that is manual will always be subject to human error, and the more you can automate each step the faster the task gets done and the more error-free the output is.

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What Does It Mean To Be Busy? https://www.thekeycuts.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-busy/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-busy/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 04:20:33 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=23061 It’s been a while! Thanks for putting up with the radio silence, we have been developing some new projects so look out for some updates! Our goal is to publish a weekly story about Excel, productivity, and respecting the hustle. We’ll also be pushing out a newsletter with more news from around the Interwebs which will […]

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It’s been a while! Thanks for putting up with the radio silence, we have been developing some new projects so look out for some updates! Our goal is to publish a weekly story about Excel, productivity, and respecting the hustle. We’ll also be pushing out a newsletter with more news from around the Interwebs which will be published on our blog and sent via e-mail if you’ve subscribed to our blog. Without further adeu, onto today’s story:

We are big fans of Tim Ferriss’ podcast and one of Tim’s previous guests was Tim Kreider, an essayist and cartoonist. Tim K. reads an essay he wrote about being “busy.” The mission of KeyCuts is to help you be productive through Excel and other productivity hacks, but what about other aspects of your life? The whole point of being productive is so that you can have time to do the other things you enjoy in your life, but what if your productivity attitude seeps into your personal life? This quote from Tim K.’s podcast sums up his manifesto:

They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness, and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.

Source: Tim Ferriss

Almost Everything You Do Doesn’t Matter

As crazy as it sounds, despite how busy and productive you are, what tangible thing are you actually doing? We recently saw this article from Thrillist about what it means to work in finance in NYC. While this listicle is a piece of satire on the finance occupation, one can’t help notice the amount of effort finance guys and gals put into making it look like they are busy crunching numbers in a spreadsheet. We don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say that most people with desk jobs really aren’t working much.

Tim K. goes on to say that most people are building tangible things anymore. It’s true, most of us are not researching the cure for cancer or solving world hunger, but the activities we fill our days with whether it’s work-related or not, can be debilitating. Going to weekly team meetings, figuring out how to do expense reports, spending days or weeks filling out your annual performance report for your next promotion; these activities all keep you busy but don’t really amount to much in the grander scheme of your life.

Is Your Purpose Defined By Your Busyness?

We know it’s deep, so follow along with us. Have you ever tried to schedule a meeting with a director at your company? You end up going through the director’s executive assistant to grab 15 minutes on his or her calendar. If you’re just an analyst, it may be hard to believe how someone can be so in demand, so occupied with seeing people or being a part of a committee that they would have time to meet with you.

Perhaps your lack of time and busyness validates your current career position. By committing yourself to projects, task forces, and people you end up spreading yourself too thin. Tim K. also discusses the notion of “plan shopping,” or never committing to any one event until you have all your options in front of you so that you can then ultimately decide on the plan that advances your career or love life. It’s almost like Tinder meets Thursday happy hours in Manhattan.

Creativity and Unstructured Time

The Professional Convention Management Association released a study about creativity in the meetings industry. If there’s one organization that knows about organization and time management, it would be the PCMA. They suggest that time must be carved out to brainstorm and push the boundaries of your industry. This sounds like a paradox. How many times has your team pushed a “brainstorm session,” or a “lunch and learn” where you get 1 hour to just spitball ideas back and forth? While it’s a step in the right direction, just plopping an hour on the calendar and forcing people to think creatively and then having them go on with their daily work routine could prevent a truly innovative idea.

Most of us don’t bring work back home with us but are thinking about work all the time. Without these thoughts about completing your projects and advancing your career, what do you have left? Perhaps the best way to rid work from your mind is to agree to plans you normally would think twice about. Imagine what an afternoon would be like that wasn’t scheduled around your Google Calendar and there weren’t any clear plans for the night. We think you would be surprised by the amazing things you’ll discover about yourself and the world you live in.

“Play some skee ball. Fuck in the middle of the day.” says Tim K.

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Startups, Coming Of Age, And Boyhood https://www.thekeycuts.com/startups-coming-of-age-and-boyhood/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/startups-coming-of-age-and-boyhood/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 04:01:54 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=15422 People love coming-of-age stories. That fuzzy mix of nostalgia, longing, and “if I only knew that when I was younger.” What if your childhood and adolescence could be summarized in 2 hours? The movie Boyhood took 12 years to produce, but we, the audience, have the luxury of witnessing the majority of a young boy’s life in matter of […]

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People love coming-of-age stories. That fuzzy mix of nostalgia, longing, and “if I only knew that when I was younger.” What if your childhood and adolescence could be summarized in 2 hours?

https://agrandeilusaocaminha.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/boyhood-screenshot-1.jpgThe movie Boyhood took 12 years to produce, but we, the audience, have the luxury of witnessing the majority of a young boy’s life in matter of 2 hours while eating popcorn and Milk Duds. Working on a startup closely reflects this notion of compressed time. Instead of feeling the ups and downs over a period of 12 years, you feel exuberance and depression on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

Startups and Space-Time

Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity suggests that we cannot agree on the time it takes for objects to travel relative to us. Imagine you are scrawny and decide to start weightlifting. If you looked at your body in the mirror over 6 months as you gain muscle, you would notice small changes to your body but not on a daily basis. Perhaps you see more defined shoulders one week, and a thinner waist the next. Over 6 months, the changes are apparent but you didn’t “feel” them every day. Now imagine you saw the changes in one day. How would you feel when you see yourself in the mirror? I would be utterly shocked and think I turned into the Incredible Hulk.

Before I started working on my startup, I read a lot of stories from entrepreneurs about failing fast and iterating until you find a product the market needs. It sounded like a roller-coaster ride but at the time, it was just that: a sound. Not until I plunged head first into startup-land did I understand the feeling of your heart dropping on the roller coaster’s first climb and drop. From day 1, I noticed how fast you learn skills like building an MVP and networking. The learning process is incredible. I could step back and see myself growing up fast to adapt with my surroundings (aka the market).

Playfulness & Optimism When Starting a Startup

At the very beginning, my team and I think about new ideas and concepts to try out. Luckily, our team has the technical know-how to actually build the ideas we concoct and dream about. As I start to talk to my friends about the idea, they become interested and we grab lunches and drinks to do more brainstorming and form partnerships. I feel completely free to do whatever I want because, well, doing a startup you can literally do whatever you want.

daydream

It doesn’t matter that the product is still rough around the edges; I am playing and enjoying the process of creating. This is one of the most prolific periods of working on my startup because I learn about new technologies, products, and business models every day. I actually enjoy being the dumbest person in the room because that’s how I learn new things. Once in a while, I might come across a bully who doesn’t like me for some reason and that’s fine, I’m ok with working on my own and not knowing where this idea is going to go. For the most part, I am just content with playing in my own sandbox with some new friends I made along the way.

The Popularity Contest

After all the great ideas and daydreaming about how awesome it would be to be a $1B company, our team starts building the actual product. Along the way, a few features get added and some are axed, but we the foundation is being laid. Slowly but surely, we put up the homepage, create a marketing strategy, and see what some of our competitors are doing. I feel like this stage is like middle school; you discover your identity and you develop a close group of friends whom will back up you on the playground.

originalI look at other companies in our space and want to be as cool as them. How did they become so popular? How did they get their first user and customer? Which reporters or investors are they friends with? I can’t help but feel pure jealousy and envy, and see my competitor’s popularity as something I want to achieve rather than something to earn. Nonetheless, when I’m with my team, I feel comfortable in my own skin and can focus on our own product. For the most part, my startup experience is still very much experimental, and I know that the product I build today may very well change tomorrow. Financially, I still have enough saved up to live and eat, so everything’s good.

Growing Up is Hard

More than a year passes by and my startup is fully functional and we even have some customers. What’s next? Where’s the exponential growth I’ve read on TechCrunch and Business Insider? Personally, my friends and family are still supportive but when they ask me innocuous questions like “What are you up to these days?” and I talk about my startup, I inevitably receive responses like “Oh. You’re still working on that?” The underlying meaning behind this question is that my friends (and most people you care about in life) expect you to have things figured out. Most business professionals with traditional careers appear to have things “figured out,” but startup guys and gals are the crazy people your friends might bring up to tell a story at a party.

I also see my friends less; finding reason to not go to happy hours, dinners, and casual hang outs. My social life is nonexistent, and I cannot block my startup from taking up headspace. When I worked in the stable corporate world, it was easy to shut off work when I left the office, but not with my startup. The startup is my new identity and when I hear negative feedback from friends, customers, and investors, it impacts me emotionally when I know this feedback should be “categorized” in the business part of my brain.

Perception is Reality

Most importantly, my fragile startup must appear to look like a fortress to the outside world. My personal life, financial situation, and the backend code itself are held together by masking tape and popsicle sticks. Somehow, some way, I make it through each test and challenge by relying on my team members and the cultish belief that we are doing something bigger than ourselves. To my peers, the positive growth and successes all look great on the surface, but only I know the banging-head-against-the-wall work required to maintain the appearance that the startup looks awesome.

Depression

At this point, is there any turning back? When you are a boy, switching your personal interests mean hanging out at one lunch table over another table. Being fully committed to one concept and belief is truly an insane way to live, but I cannot imagine living any other way. One day way in the future, I will look back and think about all the late nights, trashed mockups, and useless PowerPoint decks were necessary ingredients to help me grow as a boy into a man.

I’d rather die enormous than live dormant, that’s how we own it.

-Jay Z, Can I Live

This is a guest post by Al Chen, Co-Founder at Cooperatize.

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Interview With Terry Chen About Excel Productivity At Hearsay Social https://www.thekeycuts.com/excel-productivity-interview-terry-chen/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/excel-productivity-interview-terry-chen/#respond Sun, 15 Feb 2015 21:02:30 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=14832 We had an opportunity to interview new KeyCuts customer Terry Chen about her experience working at a super innovative company, Hearsay Social. Learn about Terry’s Excel experience, productivity tips and tricks, and of course her new keyboard cover. What is your favorite Excel keyboard shortcut? My favorite Excel keyboard shortcut is command + SHIFT + arrow keys. […]

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We had an opportunity to interview new KeyCuts customer Terry Chen about her experience working at a super innovative company, Hearsay Social. Learn about Terry’s Excel experience, productivity tips and tricks, and of course her new keyboard cover.

Terry Chen

Terry Chen from Hearsay Social

What is your favorite Excel keyboard shortcut?

My favorite Excel keyboard shortcut is command + SHIFT + arrow keys. It’s simple but awesome in maneuvering around the Excel sheet to select your data faster.

What do people say to you when they first see your keyboard cover?

They all ask: “What’s that thing on your keyboard?” and then I start talking about KeyCuts!

What is a new Excel keyboard shortcut you have learned from your keyboard cover?

Paste Special. I knew how to do Paste Special on the PC, and didn’t know how to do it on the Mac. This shortcut is super useful to know for copy and pasting data!

What are some of your favorite productivity hacks?

This productivity hack is Excel-related. If you double-click on the corner of the cell, it copies the text or formula in that cell to the end of the column.

If you had a magic wand and could get rid some manual task you do at work, what would it be?

It would be drawing diagrams that could appear on my document right as I am drawing them.

What are some strategies Hearsay Social uses to help make employees more productive?

Standing desks! 🙂 Standing desks are known to reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, but also make you more productive.

What is one thing about the Hearsay Social culture that people don’t know?

Hearsay Social practices what it preaches when it comes to its values – leadership is transparent, collaborative, and has the mentality of getting things done – and it trickles down to each employee. Maybe something that people wouldn’t know is that our culture fosters inquisitive people; any question is welcomed and people are always willing to answer/help. Great place to work!

Hearsay Social Productivity

Check out Terry’s Cool Blue keyboard cover along with her neat figurines in action at Hearsay Social!

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Top 5 Skills To Be A Better Business Analyst https://www.thekeycuts.com/top-5-skills-business-analyst/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/top-5-skills-business-analyst/#respond Wed, 11 Feb 2015 04:47:12 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=2051 What does it mean to be a good business analyst? It’s like asking someone, “Are you a good driver?” or “Are you good with kids?” Business school is traditionally the place where you might pick up these super awesome business analyst skills, but many times case studies and group projects may not be enough. In […]

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What does it mean to be a good business analyst? It’s like asking someone, “Are you a good driver?” or “Are you good with kids?” Business school is traditionally the place where you might pick up these super awesome business analyst skills, but many times case studies and group projects may not be enough. In the business world, knowing how to act when your business is facing losses, managing inventory, and figuring out salaries are all problems that require a skill set that can gained through practice and real-world experience.

Rogue Trader

Ewan McGregor playing Nick Leeson in “Rogue Trader

I’ve never taken a class that taught me how to be a good analyst. I don’t consider myself to be a good analyst since analysts are always learning new tools and techniques to be, well, better analysts! Here are the top 5 skills you should have in order to be a better analyst no matter what industry or role you are working in or aspire to work in:

1) Continue Learning New Skills

The default platform we talk about on this blog is Excel. Many people believe good business analysts are Excel geniuses and must have taken classes or are inherently smart and know how to build crazy formulas in Excel. Most business analysts learn Excel by being thrown into the deep end, and Excel is an old life jacket they are given to survive. When faced with a business challenge, you must learn what tools to use to solve the challenges and many times the tools do not involve Excel. This means you need to learn new skills on the fly whether it is understanding the new CRM platform the company is adopting or putting together a flowchart about how to better run a restaurant chain.

Knowing the ins and outs of Excel is great, but building new skills whether it’s technical software or public speaking will only make you that much stronger at understanding new business challenges and using the correct tools to solve them.

2) Decipher The Signal From The Noise

In the book aptly named The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, Silver talks about the huge amounts of data we have available to us to help us better forecast the economy, the weather, and other everyday issues. Good anlaysts take a large data set and can pick out the patterns or story lines that are actually defining the business versus drawing false conclusions from the data. One of the biggest challenges you face as an analyst is to be able to step back from the data and figure out from a bird’s eye view what message you are trying to get across to your audience or stakeholders from the data. Too often, we get stuck in the weeds of the data to understand what the purpose of the analysis is. If you had to put one headline in the newspaper about what the data is telling you, what would it be?

3) Bridge Gaps Between Different Parts of the Organization

A very basic question a COO might ask you is how to reduce costs? This involves understanding the full business process from sales to engineering to product development. The only way you will understand the full picture of what’s going on is by talking to all the stakeholders involved in the business challenge at hand. When I used to intern at a bank, I was tasked with building a simple dashboard for the COO’s chief of staff. I literally went in and interviewed every person that was providing me data to figure out how all the different parts of the back office are related. Sure, I was 20 years old and had no idea what I was doing, but I slowly learned that good anlaysts can speak the language between various different groups in the organization. People will trust you more since you speak their language, and act as a translator between different departments.

4) Always Ask Questions and Be Curious

Similar to #2, in order to understand the signal or the root of a challenge, you need to cut away the fat and go straight to the source of the problem. Sometimes data you receive is not perfect, and you should be asking yourself, where does this data come from? Why did it come this way? Are there other ways for me to analyze this problem? What am I missing? If you are not constantly asking yourself why something is the way it is and challenging the status quo, the business will never change and be stuck in its old ways forever. Let’s face it, people are averse to change no matter how “innovative” they say they are. People like the way their spreadsheets are organized and like to format their presentations a certain way, but this is where you can step in and say you have a better solution because you took the time to ask questions about why a process exists, and how it could be improved.

5) Know The Rules and Change The Game

This is my favorite tip for being a better analyst since it’s the one time, in the world of spreadsheets and PowerPoints and useless conference calls, where you can be the badass and shake things up. You know what all the stakeholders value in your business and you’ve discovered a solution that is well researched, adds value to the organization, and will make everyone happy. You have the ability to change the way an entire organization runs and people will quickly see that you took the time to understand everyone’s point of view and found a solution that satisfies everyone. This is one of the most satisfying feelings as being a rock star analyst. Sometimes the change doesn’t involve an increase in revenue or decrease in costs, but rather changes people’s perspectives about a business issue or gives your colleagues a view into the business they have never seen before. Everyone thinks that process XYZ runs a certain way because that’s just the way it has always been. You must fully understand the constraints of the process before researching and analyzing new ways of running the process. Once you discover something new about the process or challenge, you break the traditional thinking people have and change the game for good.

What other skills have you gained as an analyst you think all analysts should have?

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Fighting Fire with Fire: Using Technology to Increase Productivity https://www.thekeycuts.com/technology-to-increase-productivity/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/technology-to-increase-productivity/#respond Tue, 11 Nov 2014 13:25:38 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=2642 This story was written by KeyCuts student ambassador Kristin Hodgkinson. Kristin is a senior at Syracuse University studying public relations and communications.  Productivity. To me, there are two things that get in the way of being productive: procrastination and multi-tasking. As a college student, it is always a constant battle to overcome these two barriers to achieve […]

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This story was written by KeyCuts student ambassador Kristin Hodgkinson. Kristin is a senior at Syracuse University studying public relations and communications. 

Productivity. To me, there are two things that get in the way of being productive: procrastination and multi-tasking. As a college student, it is always a constant battle to overcome these two barriers to achieve productivity. In today’s technologically driven age, there are just too many distractions that can easily take a college student off-track. Picture this, you sit down to write a paper, open up your laptop, and are immediately overwhelmed with information. Your CNN updates pop up in the right corner of your screen, your friends are texting you through iMessage, and you just have to check your Facebook notifications before you get started, and maybe then just quickly see if anyone has tried to connect with you on LinkedIn. See what I mean?

The fact that technology so easily enables multi-tasking leads to procrastination and a serious decrease in productivity. In fact, a study done by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that after an interruption it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task. Now think about how many times a day you are interrupted because of technology. That’s a lot of minutes wasted. So how does one combat this? For me, I’ve started using technology. Check out these tools to learn how you can combat technological distractions by using technology itself.

SelfControl

Self Control app

SelfControl is a great app to block out distractions and ensure you’re focusing on the task at hand. Simply white or blacklist the sites of your choice and set the amount of time you’d like to stay focused on task. Your browser will act as if its offline when you try to visit them for the desired amount of time. Restarting your computer or browser will have no effect on the app, ensuring maximum productivity.

Reminders

iOS reminders

This may seem like a simple fix, but using the reminder app to send you push notifications of upcoming tasks can be extremely helpful. This will allow you to prioritize your activities and set a timeline up to ensure that you are aware of when they need to be completed, motivating you to stay on task.

Evernote

Evernote

Evernote is considered one of the world’s most widely-used productivity apps. It has the capability to perform a number of functions to help you be successful. To name a few, it can share notes and whole notebooks with friends and classmates, attach files to any note, set virtual reminders, scan text in photos, attach voice memos and it can sync automatically between all devices.

Things

Things for Mac

Things is a personal task management app that can help you prioritize the tasks you need to complete by subdividing them into several sections to help you “get things done.” Some of its best features are that it highlights tasks that are due on the current day or need to be completed by that day. It alerts you of upcoming tasks to complete. Using this app will allow you to always prioritize your assignments by importance and make sure they get completed.

Technology can be distracting. But finding a way to utilize it to maximize productivity can help you to overcome that barrier of multitasking and eliminate procrastination for good.

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What is the True Opportunity Cost of Business School? https://www.thekeycuts.com/business-school-opportunity-cost/ https://www.thekeycuts.com/business-school-opportunity-cost/#respond Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:19:45 +0000 http://www.thekeycuts.com/?p=2587 This is not just another tirade on why you should not go to business school. I believe there are many great universities to receive your MBA and from which to start your new career. Many of my closest friends are going or have gone to business school. The fact that you are reading this story right now means […]

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This is not just another tirade on why you should not go to business school. I believe there are many great universities to receive your MBA and from which to start your new career. Many of my closest friends are going or have gone to business school. The fact that you are reading this story right now means you are either in business school or seriously contemplating applying for one. Instead of viewing business school from the typical pros and cons perspective, one of my friends recently challenged me in thinking about business school in terms of opportunity costs. Here is my non-scientific analysis of business school and the great opportunity cost that lies before those deciding whether to apply.

The Smaller Paycheck

The Wall Street Journal made a case against business school in January 2013 saying that getting your MBA did not necessarily lead to “financial success.” This is like saying going to a top culinary school does not make you the next Tom Colicchio. Not rocket science here, but the article does go onto stating some drivers for why the prestige of the MBA has decreased over the last 5-10 years:

  • Weak economic climate
  • Diversity of b-school programs (think part-time MBAs, Executive MBA programs, and online programs)
  • Evolving corporate needs
  • Perceived value of the MBA

Ok, so part of the argument here is about supply and demand. More people getting their MBAs because there is more flexibility in MBA programs overall means the club lets you come in with jeans and sneakers now. Fine, let’s assume that’s true which means competition post-graduation is tougher resulting in lower MBA salaries.

Mariana Zanetti in her self-published book “The MBA Bubble” speaks about the MBA as if it were the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2009. It sounds like the whole MBA thing just didn’t work out for her, so this is her lashing out against the system. The WSJ article and Zanetti’s book shows that external factors are forcing MBA students to settle for lower than expected salaries. The perceived value of the MBA, however, is a much more personal perspective and each person has their story for why getting a graduate business degree just didn’t make sense for them.

The Startup Education vs. the MBA

As I mentioned earlier, listing out pros and cons of going to business school may work in your specific scenario, and finding the difference between the two columns can lead you to a decision. Usually the cost of business school is…well, the cost. Most students go in debt and forego two years of a salary. In return, you get a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn a new skill set, build your professional network, and switch careers.

Instead of the cost being a “cash” value, what if the true cost is something intangible?

With the rise of tech startups and entrepreneurship being an acceptable career option, we are seeing a shift in the way the new workforce is choosing tech over Wall Street:

Seduced by the culture and mission at places such as Google Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. , business-school graduates are even accepting somewhat lower pay for what they perceive as more meaningful work—once unthinkable among a group known for chasing profits.

Another strong argument can be made for avoiding business school altogether and doing your own startup. You can “learn by doing” which gives you an experience that business schools can only fabricate in the classroom. One of my favorite discussions on Hacker News is MBA vs. Startup: Which should I choose? User TomOfTTB summarizes the argument for doing a startup over the MBA:

If you’re interested in working at startups, you’ll learn more through your own startup. If you’re interested in working at a big company, an MBA is worth more.

The Opportunity Cost of Business School is Travel

To further explore the “cost” of business school, the opportunity to travel cannot be overlooked. If you believe entrepreneurship is not the reason why you should forego an MBA, here are some reasons why travel can be just as tempting to not sink $100K into your MBA:

1) You can still take a break from your job.

Traveling around the world means you are not working (hopefully). Many people see business school as a way to “take time off” and traveling is exactly that. Being able to break from your 9 to 5 and not eat lunch at your desk is a truly liberating experience.

2) Traveling cost less than you think it does.

You can backpack through most parts of Asia living off of $50 a day; less than that if you tough it out in a 16-bed hostel. Sure, the airfare to get from one place to another can add up, but taking other forms of transit like bus and train can drastically reduce the costs associated with living and experiencing different cultures.

3) Meeting people from all walks of life.

Most people you’ll meet will probably be Australians and students from the U.K. on their gap year. You’ll quickly realize that you have more in common with a retired 75-year old Japanese watch salesman than you think you do (he wanted to improve his English and I wanted to eat authentic Japanese food). The network you build at business school is important, but the diversity of people you will meet while traveling is something you cannot replicate at the weekly 1st-year mixers on campus.

4) Remembering where you came from.

Traveling has this very sobering affect on you when you see real families trying to make a living in a developing country. If you were brought up from humble beginnings and worked hard to get to where you are today, sometimes it gets easy to forget those moments of struggle and hardship. Seeing that hardship occur every single day, even as a backpacker, makes you remember those times when you relied on your immediate family for everything. You start to gain an appreciation for the small conveniences in your already frugal journey such as a shower with hot water.

5) There is no goal, path, or degree.

For those who are on a career trajectory and have filled out their annual PDPs, traveling is a huge slap in the face. There is no ultimate goal to work towards and no promotion in sight. The journey is the journey. I just realized at one point I needed to go…and went. No specific path or idea of tourist attractions I wanted to see, I just needed to move. Once you grasp this concept of traveling to just experience, your mind will be blown to the freedom you have to pick yourself and go and do anything you want to do.

Traveling is just one awesome experience you will give up if you go to business school. What other alternatives have you considered outside of business school?

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