The Power of a Spreadsheet

Last weekend, I got into an argument with a crowd of people about how many laps around a .3 mile track it would take to complete 6 miles. Everyone one involved possessed a high school diploma at the very least, yet there we were, a roomful of adults, disagreeing about some very basic math. If you have read many of my posts, you know that math is not my strong suite, and so I lacked the confidence to back up my assertion that it takes 20 laps – despite the fact that I had, that very day, thought about it quite a lot while running those 20 laps.

Spreadsheets are important to my business life because they remove the fuzziness inherent to mathematical questions for me. I have spreadsheets for prospects, articles written, publications Screen Shot of Smiling Tree Spreadsheetqueried, letters of introduction sent…I even use spreadsheets to organize books that I am writing. With the information so neatly laid out, it’s easy to figure out the ratio of queries sent to assignments received, and to compare time spent marketing to monthly income changes.

Last week, looking at a spreadsheet brought about an epiphany. Wait. “Epiphany” isn’t quite the right word. It connotes something good, right? This was not good. Maybe “startling realization” is a better descriptor. Or possibly “stark realization.” Yeah, that’s what it was. Stark.

In general, I think of myself as a pretty determined person. I tend to keep trying long after common sense says to stop. But, my spreadsheets tell a different story. Most of my freelance clients are business owners, and a great deal of the writing I do is ghostwriting. In other words, I don’t have many bylines. My name is generally not attached to my work, and often, it is a condition of my contract to not disclose I wrote an article or a book or whatever. Several months ago, I decided to query a few publications in order to have some work published under my own name.

I have a great accountability partner, and since most of her work has been for trade publications, she has been helping and encouraging me to send letters of introduction and queries. She helped me put together some good query letters and shared her own (very successful) process.

After a couple of months, I was ready to quit. I had gotten two assignments for print publication. Neither paid well, and one ended up being such a fiasco I eventually withdrew my article from consideration for publication.

My accountability partner encouraged me to continue. She said it hadn’t been long enough for me to make a judgement about whether or not the process of querying was working for me or not.

“But I’ve seen so many!” I whined, pathetically.

Pondering her advice, I decided to go to my trusty spreadsheet and count exactly how many. To make my point about it not working.

Of course, counting proved her point, not mine. It felt as if I had sent hundreds of emails to editors, some pitching story ideas, others simply introducing myself. In all reality, I’d only sent about 25. Determined, huh?

The same kind of thing has happened again and again. I feel like I’m working so hard, only to check my spreadsheets to find that I’m not, really.

How do you track your activities? Have you ever found that you are not working quite as hard as you thought?  

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