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I am a fairly advanced Excel user. For example, just this morning I created a lovely workbook so a volunteer at Nottingham Industrial Museum can enter volunteer hours and produce a simple report.

My objective was to save the volunteer time and get the numbers needed by Nottingham City Council. I felt the job was easier done by hand (oh! sacrilege), but she wanted to stick to Excel as she isn’t comfortable with arithmetic. So, I set up a data entry table, a couple of pivot tables and a look-up table. We now have an easy-to-use spreadsheet, that does all the hard work by automagic.

The opposite happened when I was looking for a host for my new website.

I started by working out what is important to me. In no particular order I came to:

  • a customisable spam filter
  • WordPress compatible
  • servers in the UK
  • provides backups (that can be restored by individuals)
  • subdomains
  • decent storage
  • unlimited bandwidth
  • price
  • provision of a domain.

Given that I identified eleven potential hosts, this was a job crying out for a matrix. What better way to create a matrix than…a piece of scrap paper and a pen. What no Excel, you might ask. My other half did when I presented my decision to him later that day.

So why was this better?

  • The first thing is that the technology didn’t get in the way of the task. In Excel I would have been tempted to make it a table and learn more about that functionality. I would have had to find a good way of showing Yes or No and I would have spent time on the layout. In other words, using a piece of paper gave me space to concentrate on the task in-hand.
  • The second thing is that I had a gazillion tabs open as navigated websites, engaged in live chats and discussed options by email. Another window, even if it were the safe harbour of Excel, would have been another plate to spin.
  • The third thing is that little note to myself at the bottom of the page. I always have paper and pen to hand to make notes like this – otherwise, I forget. Excel would let me make the note, but would I ever see it again? I don’t search for notes in Excel and a piece of paper next to my keyboard gets my attention every time.
  • Finally, the sheer handiness. A contact recommended another host after I started the task. I didn’t have to fire up Excel; I grabbed a pen and added it when I was doing something else.

So that is my story for today. What is the takeaway? Pick the right tool for the job, remembering that the fanciest, most interesting tool may not be the best.

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