In Seattle

Dee and I are currently in Seattle, as I’m attending the MVP summit for the 3rd year in a row. We’re now happily checked in to the Westin, and waiting for registration to start tomorrow.

We came down on the Victoria Clipper ferry again, which is a fairly nice way to travel. The only beef I have with it is that, at this time of year, there is only one trip to and one trip from Seattle per day. So we had to catch the 5:00PM boat down, which means it’s about 9:30PM before we’re in our room. I can’t really eat before we go, as we have to be there at 4:00, so that means you’d have to hit somewhere around 3:00 to actually get a meal, and I’m just not hungry at that point. Sure, you can buy food on the boat, but it’s pre-packaged snack type food, and is far from a satisfying meal. I’d way prefer it if they sailed from Victoria to Seattle at, say 2:00. You’d get in so much earlier and would actually have time to do something in the evening.

Oh well. Regardless, it sure beats the bus, is a pretty easy way to travel with some nice views. Despite the fact that we went through a nasty rain shower, the ride was mostly smooth, and we’re here now, so no more complaining.

I just got back from a good dinner at Gorden Biersch. The last time I was there was 11 days shy of two years ago. I only know this because I blogged about it. :) That was the first night I’d ever met any of my MVP colleagues in person… very hard to believe that it’s been 2 years since that time.

Tomorrow morning we’re going to start off with the traditional breakfast at Lowell’s, and after some time at Pike Place I’ll head off to registration to see who else is here.

 

Twitter

I figured that I’d give this a shot, so we’ll see where it leads.  I’ve set up a Twitter profile, and linked to it on right side of my main site (just under the RibbonX book on the right).

I’ll have to be careful what I say during the summit, since I did sign an Non Disclosure Agreement with Microsoft, but I should be able to provide some non-confidential updates.  Weird thing though… within 32 minutes of signing up for an account, and before posting this, I already had my first follower.  That’s just weird!

At any rate, I haven’t spent more than 20 minutes with this, so if you want the RSS feed for it, it’s here.  I’ll try and figure out if I can stream it into the blog at a later date if I’m taken with it.

Right now, I can only wonder how much this is going to cost me, as I have to send updates via SMS (text message) from my phone… and I don’t have a plan.  That may have to change!  :)

So what have I been doing?

Well, there’s the big question. Over the past few months, what the heck could I have possibly been doing that is more important than blogging?

November & December were really busy at work. Right about the time of my last post, our newest hire had again given notice. Nothing performance related, just a team dynamics issue. So we had to hire again, which took a little wind out of the sails. In the mean time, we were also working through budgets, I took a full week to attend the VMWare 3.5 Install & Configure course and, of course, we had the never ending month ends and year ends thrown in the mix. Couple that with all my daughter’s activities, preparing for Christmas and other social events, and there was just no time for blogging through the end of December.

January wasn’t much better as far as blogging time. At work we had to blast through the year end, then re-budget everything due to the economic situation. It took us 2 months to do our initial budgets, and we had to pull off an entirely new budget in about 2 ½ weeks. Oh, and let’s not forget that it is also the time of year where we do annual billings for all of our golf and marina memberships. Based on the budgets, we wanted to offer some discounts for early payments, as well as coupons for our other facilities, so that meant creating new systems to deal with it all. The member billings spreadsheet essentially turned into an application of its own that still needs documentation, although it probably won’t get it until next year. (I got the big pieces done, but it’s the little pieces that worry me.)

As for my personal time, I taught a full day hands-on Introduction to VBA course on January 23rd and, as I always do, wrote all the material from scratch. Included in the material were 11 example files and a 60 page e-Book, and that doesn’t even mention the presentation part of it. In all, it was a lot of work to pull together, and I spent most evenings in January on that task. (I’m hoping to release the whole thing for sale on my site in the coming months, but I have a couple of other commitments to get to first.)

The day after the course the family and I flew down to Disneyland for a few days. That was a hoot, but we all came back sick, and have been battling various illnesses. From colds, to infections to nasty noro-viruses, we’ve have pretty much 3 illnesses each in 4 weeks. Not really all that fun, and it hardly leaves you in the mood to blog about things.

And now February is almost gone…

The last couple of weeks have been interesting, work wise. Budgets were finalized, and that meant that we needed to rebuild our financial statement set to display numbers using the original budgets (for the client), and revised target budgets for our managers. Needless to say our systems weren’t built for that. Fortunately, back in the summer I had built an Access database to hold all of our historical information and had essentially built my own OLAP interface to it. (I used this to pull expected actual into our budgeting spreadsheets.) I was able to quickly add a new budget type, and then re-built all of our financial statements in Excel.

I now have 20 worksheets of reports based on 11 pivot tables. Each worksheet has columns that run up to BF right now, with them conditionally hidden, depending on whom the reports are being printed for. I’ve even coded it to automatically move the page breaks, as the column counts vary and all reports are fit to 1 page wide by x pages tall. I’m actually fairly proud of what I’ve built so far, as it already far exceeds the reporting we had only one month ago. And the best part? It’s fast. I can refresh the whole set of data from the database, reset all the filters, and recalculate the workbook in under 1 minute. The Property Management System we used natively took almost an hour to generate half as many statements as I have now.

My next focus is going to be on implementing a whole new chart of accounts into what I already have for some of our property development stuff. It won’t look like much, but we’re talking about creating new departmental income statements, inventory statements and consolidated income statements, and rolling them seamlessly into the existing package. I’m looking forward to that being done, but not so much at the construction of it.

After that, however, things should be interesting. The focus will then turn to dashboard reporting and working on reports that actually give management information, rather than just a standard income statement. THAT should be cool, as I’ll be playing around with graphs, Excel 2007’s conditional format icon sets, the camera tool and what not, trying to dig up things that matter.

All that work will start mid March, though, as I’ll be off most of next week to attend the 2009 Microsoft MVP summit. I’m looking forward to making the trip again this year, and chatting with the Excel crowd. Definitely looking forward to seeing what is in store for Excel 14. :)

As for blogging, I’m going to try to post a little more, but I’m not going to make any firm promises. I am teaching 3 more courses in the next 3 months, so I’m going to have a lot of work cut out for me trying to get all the material ready. We’ll see if I can’t say a few things though. Maybe I should be trying to be a little more like Twitter, rather than go on and on like I always seem to do!

Hmmm… on a technology note… Does anyone know if it is possible to schedule a blog post in WordPress when you post it to the blog from Microsoft Word? I can publish it as a draft, but that’s not really what I’m after.

At any rate, I need to get back to packing now, as I leave for the MVP summit tomorrow.  :)

My computer still works!

You’d think that after I reinstalled the 32 bit edition of Vista that my machine had broken with the amount of blog posts I’ve put up lately. In fact, that’s not really the case. I’ve just been really busy. The big difference is that I’ve actually been getting some things done, and not really had time to talk about it online. I need to fix that, though. (The talk about it online part.) ;)

Before I get into what I have been doing, (which won’t be in this post,) I need to give a long overdue shout out to my friend Steve French.

I met Steve after posting about my time management woes. In fact, Steve emailed me to offer his help, and I took him up on the offer. His company is called Infomatix, the LinkedIn summary of which reads “We work with growth-oriented entrepreneurs who want to reach new levels of productivity and profitability.” I’d call him a performance coach.

Steve’s focus was interesting. For 10 weeks we had a one hour conference call to discuss certain aspects that could help improve performance and time management. We talked about goal setting, and time management techniques, email handling, file management, (physical) desktop management, and a host of other topics in that period. And while I won’t share all his secrets, there are a few things that have really stuck with me since our regular calls ended back in November:

  • Kolbe profiling is really cool. I have a new staff member (yeah, AGAIN). This time though, I spent the money and got two candidates to complete Kolbe profiles, measured against an “ideal” profile that I completed, as well as against my profile. The results narrowed us down to the ideal candidate, and she’s still with us and doing great. I’m a total convert to Kolbe, despite the fact that my wife (and the employee too, actually) thinks it is all hocus-pocus!
  • Positive focus is drastically undervalued. Steve started every session with the following three questions: “What are the 3 biggest successes you had last week? What made them successes? What do you need to do next on them?” I’ll admit that the first few sessions I kind of rolled my eyes a bit, but played game with him. I can honestly say now that it is probably the part of the sessions that I miss the most, as it really made me think. I’ve spent my entire life working on what I have to do next, never looking back in the rear-view to appreciate what I have already accomplished. That may sound funny, but that is a truism, and it’s something that I have changed in my life. I now start every morning listing 5 positive things I accomplished yesterday, and then plan out the things I want to get done during the day.
  • I re-evaluate my goals after lunch… well… most of the time. If I’m not so focused on getting something done, anyway. But if I’m humming and hawing and not being productive, I force myself to. The question is “What do I have to do to leave work on time and happy?” You know what? I leave work on time… and happy. Not every day, as some days are tough, but I definitely have way less stress than I used to, despite still having a huge work list.
  • I work far better in Outlook than I used to as well, thanks to some power training that Steve helped me out with. My inbox is empty, my task lists are not covered in red (overdue) items, and I do book appointments into my calendar to follow up on things. All very different from a year ago.

I found it really easy to connect with Steve, as he has worked in both finance and IT, as I have. He’s been in many of the same situations I have with workload, and pressures. But being able to swap war stories is only so much when you’re trying to help someone. Steve was very adaptable to my needs. If something he showed me just wasn’t something I could work with, he encouraged me to call him out on it, which I certainly did. We both recognized that some things work for some people, and not for others, so he’d either come up with alternative methods or not, as the case fit at the time.

Another interesting thing about Steve is his attitude to technology. The more I look around, the more I read, I become very dissatisfied with the user interfaces and workflows that are built by programmers with either little regard for, or understanding of, the way people really work. Steve’s focus is helping you get your technology to work for you efficiently. He’ll show you the tips and tricks you need in Outlook, Sharepoint, Windows Search or whatever, to let you get things done more quickly.

As you no doubt have picked up, I was really happy with my coaching from Steve, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him to anyone in need of some help in this area. You can find Steve’s website and contact information at www.infomatix.ca, and his public LinkedIn profile is available here.