Curling your Task Data to hit your Writing Buttons

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…


Now what? I already loaded the dishwasher.

“Yes, dear?”

“The men’s curling is on!”

Sweet! The writing will have to wait…

We are smack dab in the middle of the Winter Olympics, and I have but one word: AWESOME! I have loved the Olympics since I can remember watching them and I love the Winter Olympics best. Since Nagano, I have watched Olympic Curling avidly, and this Olympics is no different! I have even looked into curling in my area, finding the local Broadmoor Curling Club. Hmmm, if I only had time…

Alas, between my writing, my family, and my day job, I think my Olympic aspirations may be nothing more than a dream. Oh well, life will go on, as will my writing! Curling for fun? Well, we’ll see if maybe I can fit that into my leisure time somewhere down the road. Golf in the summer, curl in the winter?

By now, you have successfully created your spreadsheet of writing tasks, and are likely using it to help plan and execute your weekly Appointment to Write. If you read last month’s blog, you even have a more long-term set of writing goals that you want to pursue over the next ten years. All of this is great and will help you achieve your writing dreams.

So this month, I want to detail some of the Microsoft Excel features that will allow you to view and organize your data based on various fields and values. These are nothing new to the avid Excel user, but useful to those who have never seen them before.

First, once your data is in with the Status and Target set for each task, then you want to sort your data each time you keep your Appointment to Write so that your highest priority items bubble to the top. This can be accomplished using the sort option in Excel.

Before you access this feature, open your spreadsheet and select the upper left-most cell in your table header. This will be titled Book if you are using the spreadsheet downloaded from my site. Now, scroll down to the lower right-most cell of your data and hold down the shift key before clicking on the cell. This will select your entire table for the sort. Now, from the menu, select Data | Sort to get the following dialog to appear.

If you followed my advice and used the Status fields I specified, then sorting them from A to Z will put the Done at the top, the Inprogress next, and the Not Started last. This may seem a bit strange, but you want the finished tasks to be first so that you scroll past them to the ones you need to work on. Since I change the color of my finished tasks, it is easy to scroll down to the “white” cells to know where to start.

Next, you want to add a new field to sort on and select the Target field. This will allow you to sort from Oldest to Newest, thus placing your closest deadlines at the top of the list. This way you work through your list in the order you originally specified. The great news is if you change your targets, you can easily re-sort the data by clicking on only one cell within your table and running the sort command again. It “remembers” the last sort you ran on this data. I know, really convenient!

Now that you can sort your data such that your highest priority items are the first items to work with, you can run the sort at the beginning of your Appointment to Write or after you have made changes to your task list. However, I often need to manage my list by Book or task Area rather than just Target and Status. Thankfully, the filtering feature within Excel offers this ease of use by forcing the view to show only the data for a specific book or task area.

As before, click on the Book cell within your table header to begin. Next, select Data | Filter to filter by any of the table headers you use. Note, the program automatically places pull-down arrows within each cell of the table header row, thus allowing you to select whatever value to filter on within that column. For example, in the following I have filtered the spreadsheet by task Area, selecting only those rows identified as Editing.

As you no doubt noticed, there is more to filtering than just a single value in that particular column. If you have text within that field, such as in Task and Comment, you can have it filter on rows that contain a specific text string or you can filter on numeric columns that are greater than or less than a specific value.

The power to view various aspects of your data is enormous, so play around with this feature to discover what it can do. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt the data, and if need be, you can remove filtering from your table to bring everything back to the way it was before. As your task list grows and becomes more complex, this feature will help you slice it up into ways that are useful to your management of it.

Now, I need to get back to those Olympics and root for team USA to win another round of curling. Being in last place at this stage of the round robin means every game counts from here on out. I hope they can pull it off!

Keep your Appointment to Write, manage your writing tasks, and most importantly, don’t stop writing! Talk with you next month.