Managing expenses on Google Spreadsheets

There are many personal finance tools that help automate managing our expenses with fancy graphs and stats on our expenses. Mint, for example, uses data from your credit cards to generate graphs about your spending across categories. Each of your credit card apps likely do so too. But, if you’re in it to be on top of your expenses, I’m still a big fan of managing expenses on a Google Spreadsheet.

I’d shared a simple Google spreadsheet template in a post on calculating expenses 6 years back. We still use an evolved version of that template (happy to clean up + share an updated version if it is valuable to you). And, managing our expenses involves entering each expense. This process has friction built into it by design because the friction inspires consciousness.

We get all the other benefits – we always know exactly how much we’ve spent across major categories. And, we have a wealth of historical data cut in a way that makes sense to us.

We recently compared notes on how we do this with a couple of friends and they tested the “old fashioned” spreadsheet approach as well. Their first reaction after switching was that their spreadsheet made them acutely aware of the areas where they wanted to minimize expenses. This is so true – it is effective to the point where you soon realize you don’t need a budget.

Every technology tool creator’s goal is to make our lives more convenient. But, it is on us to both find the right tools and add the necessary amount of friction to use these tools consciously.

And, as far as topics that are as important as personal finance go, the more the consciousness, the better the long term outcome.

The three main things

Before we wade into that ocean of email/messages on other communication tools and start working away on everyone else’s priority list, the first question for Monday morning is – are we clear about the three main things that will help us move the needle this week? 

It is okay if the three things evolve as we receive new information over the course of the week. It is also okay if we decide someone else’s main thing is more important than ours. It is just not okay to not have given our list of three things thought and definitely not okay to not have them written down someplace where they can be tracked.

In a workday with more communication tools than people we need to actually communicate with, the main challenge with getting things done remains the main thing. The main thing, it turns out, is to keep the main thing the main thing.

In the long run, everything else is gravy.

The pat routine

The period between the first and second years of a child involves a collection of leaps that all add up to a transformation. They go from mostly helpless babies to walking, babbling, little human beings. As witness to this transformation, I find myself frequently blown away by how much they learn by observation. For example, when we run out of ideas, we ask our 21 month old to put us to sleep – this, in turn, involves getting the “pat routine” going.

The pat routine is part of the final few minutes before she heads to bed at night. We take turns to pat her for 30 – 60 seconds each before leaving the room. As part of her re-enactment of our pat routine, she does a play-by-play of every detail. This includes quirks involving how we pat her, what we say before and after, and the time we take to do it.

Whenever I see her do this, I’m reminded of just how much learning is done by watching what we do versus listening to what we say. She still listens to what we say – most of the time – but she watches what we do all the time.

I noticed similar patterns in my own behavior recently. I was listening to someone speak and felt my eyes glazing over. But, later that day, I saw the same person do something that I paid a lot of attention to. They were simply doing what they said earlier – but, the doing caught my attention in a way the talking couldn’t.

So, it isn’t a “child thing.” Or, rather, it shouldn’t be. I’ve had some expensive life lessons in emotional intelligence where I paid far too much attention to what someone said instead of watching what they did. In making these mistakes, I clearly un-learned stuff I’d known by instinct in my early years. Kids get learning-by-observation right from the start. It is just on us as parents to make sure we’re walking our talk.

And, that applies just as well to us as leaders/teammates/human beings.

PS: I thought I’d share a ~40 min podcast with Paul on his “Think Boundless” podcast a few months back. We spoke about this blog, riffed on the future of work, and many lessons learned on a variety of topics including parenting. It is here – if you do take the time to check it out, do send me notes/feedback on rohan [at] or by replying to this email if you receive this by email.

The Law of Minor Annoyances

The Law of Minor Annoyances: Minor annoyances expand to fill any and all available mental bandwidth you make available to them.

We encounter minor annoyances everyday in the form of small frustrations, little spats, doses of bad luck, and irksome exchanges. If left unchecked, they fester, become major annoyances, and cloud all perspective.

Much of our daily happiness at work and at home, then, depends on our ability to understand and apply the law of minor annoyances. The more we learn to let go, the more happier and more productive we will be.

Germs and shields

Writing here every day for the past decade has inspired many changes – chief among them is a higher degree of awareness about my response to various stimuli. One application of this awareness is a better understanding of how I (/we?) fall sick. I call it the germs and shields theory.

The premise of the theory is that we face attacks by germs throughout the course of the year. But, we naturally shield ourselves from these attacks when we make good regular health decisions – i.e. when we sleep 7+ hours every night, eat healthy, keep good mental health via good mental food and company, and stay active. However, when we go through periods when our ability to do some of this and take good rest is stretched, our shields come down. And, when they do, the germs hit us with some combination of the flu, throat pains, and so on. (Note: every once a while, if the germs don’t get us, we can also become accident prone)

So, what should we do when the germs finally get us? I think there are two constructive steps.

First, take a break and get those shields back up. Someone once told me that falling sick is the universe’s way of saying – “Dude, take a break.” While the germs should naturally see to this, it is worth putting a stop to any kind of work, switching off, and recovering. The more we postpone the break, the longer our shields will be down.

Second, take some time to think about what caused our shields to go down and how we can reduce its occurrence. My goal is to keep such occurrences to once per year. Such periods of frenetic activity are often not in our control. But, every once a while, we can walk away with powerful insights about changes in our operating model. Dealing with these issues now go a long way in preventing bigger issues in the future.

For example, my latest “shields down” moment is a direct result of not changing a few things as we settle into life with two kids under two.  Making it a habit to take a personal day off every few weeks to just sleep in, get some admin done, etc., has never been more essential.

Simple actions can go a long way in helping prevent issues. And, as far as our health goes, the old adage – prevention is better than cure – is spot on.

RSS and Feedly

“In the middle of all of this, Wired’s Article It’s Time For An RSS Revival caught my attention. I’ve been using RSS continuously for over a decade as my primary source of information. My current feed reader is Feedly, which I think is currently the best in class. It’s one of my primary sources for information that informs me, is private, and allows me to control and modulate what information I look at.

While RSS has disappeared into the plumbing of the internet, there’s still something fundamental about it. Its durability is remarkably impressive, especially in the context of the lack of the evolution and perceived displacement of the protocol over the past few years.”

The above paragraphs were from venture capitalist Brad Feld’s post on the wonderful RSS protocol today. Thanks to Google Reader and Feedly, I’ve found myself grateful to RSS nearly every day over the past 8 or so years.

I only read blogs on my Feedly (no news sources). As a result, opening up my Feedly generally feels like sitting down with a cup of coffee with a friend. While I look forward to my daily dose of Seth in the morning, Feedly is also how I’ve gotten to know those of you blog + write in from time to time. I look forward to posts from Arthur, Ashwin, Barry, CarolEfesa, JanaMarvin, Mary EllenMikePaul, RyanShishir, Steve, and Zac – among others who’ve since stopped writing. :-)

The RSS protocol has endured for almost two decades. I’m hopeful it will endure for many more.

A giraffe, elephant, and diversity

A giraffe built a home suited to his family’s specifications – with soaring ceilings and narrow hallways. The home also included a home-office. As he working in his office one day, he saw an elephant he knew passing by and decided to invite him to work with him.

The elephant gladly accepted. But, as he entered the giraffe’s home, he started breaking things. The hallways were too narrow and the stairs weren’t built to take the elephant’s weight. In response, the giraffe first made a few minor adjustments by removing a few bolts and panels.

But, he soon realized that the elephant was not suited for the office/house and began suggesting the elephant take aerobics and ballet classes so he could fit in. The elephant, on the other hand, realized that a house built for giraffes wouldn’t make sense for elephants without major changes.

The story is a great way to think about how we often approach the subject of diversity and speaks to the massive opportunity that lies ahead of us if he considered the implications of this parable.


(H/T: Thank you Stephen Weiss for writing in and sharing this)

Mastery – The Terry Laughlin summary

Life is not designed to hand us success or satisfaction, but rather to present us with challenges that make us grow. Mastery is the mysterious process by which those challenges become progressively easier and more satisfying through practice. The key to that satisfaction is to reach the nirvana in which love of practice for its own sake (intrinsic) replaces the original goal (extrinsic) as our grail. The antithesis of mastery is the pursuit of quick fixes.

I haven’t read George Leonard’s 1990s classic “Mastery.” But, I came across this synthesis of the book’s core ideas from legendary swimming coach Terry Laughlin and thought it was spot on.

The quote – “Life is not designed to hand us success or satisfaction, but rather to present us with challenges that make us grow.” – is a keeper. And, “The antithesis of mastery is the pursuit of quick fixes.” is one for anyone facing a tough challenge.

Contribution and Impact

“Your contribution is what happens when you’re in the room. Your impact is what happens when you’re out of the room.” – Matt Dunsmoor

This is a beautiful articulation and is one for all of us who hope to have a positive impact on the world. Contribution is the process that leads to impact.

And, in the spirit of focusing on process over outcomes, perhaps we ought to stop asking ourselves if what we’re doing is having an impact. Instead, the the question to ask ourselves is – “Am I making a positive and thoughtful contribution?”

If the answer is yes, it follows that we are doing our absolute best to create the impact we hope to create.

Of course, when we know better, we’ll contribute better.

Metrics we could optimize

We’re all likely accountable for a metric or two in our workplaces. And, doing a good job optimizing these metrics can go a long way in shaping our career’s trajectory.

But, it doesn’t end there. Thanks to our phones and our favorite apps/websites, it is easy to find ourselves optimizing metrics in our personal lives as well. It could be likes on the photos of our new hobby or latest travel picture, listens on that podcast we do on the side, reshares on that witty quote, views on that video, subscribers on that newsletter, and so on.

Of course, we don’t have to optimize any of these. We could, instead, decide to optimize other alternatives that are less present – doses of insight that changed how we approach our days, the number of hugs we gave to those we love, times we resisted the urge to interrupt, changes we embraced, and positive contributions we made in rooms we were in.

The metrics that we most need to optimize for a better life are rarely found in any notifications tab.