While working on my new book I’d come to the point where I needed to merge the data from 6 different sources into a single file, creating one master list for each month for the years 2008-2012. I’d assumed this would be perfectly easy and not take very long – maybe a day or two at most. Boy was I wrong.
There are around 72,000 entries that need sorting in total. I tried doing it by hand but soon realised that it was extremely tedious, extremely slow, and would take about 3 weeks to do all 60 months. The deadline is tight enough as it is – I’m hoping to have the book on sale at the Winchester Writers’ Conference at the end of June – so this was an unexpected delay I could really do without. Surely a computer could help with this task?
Unfortunately it wasn’t just a case of copying the separate files into one long list and then sorting them into order. They were all in a specific format – lots of brackets and things – that made sorting impossible – and I wanted to retain that format at the end. The data needed sorting on two criteria: number of years old and day of the month. Plus there’s the additional problem that Excel isn’t too happy about handling historic dates – and some of these are over 1,000 years old.
I started playing around with a few ideas in Word, Excel and EditPad, using advanced search and replace and macros, and manually copying the data from one application to another as it completed the various reformating and sorting stages it needed to go through.
After a couple of hours of trying different things (and getting it wrong and trying again, or coming up against a limitation in the software) I’ve finally come up with a method that works reliably. I can do each month in around 5 minutes, or about 5 hours in total. Much better than the 3 weeks it would otherwise have taken. And I can listen to internet radio while I’m doing it, since it doesn’t take a lot of thinking about.
Think about this another way: time is money. I normally charge £25 an hour for my publishing service, and if I’m working on this book then I can’t be do any publishing, so I’m losing money. If this little sorting project had taken me 3 weeks, working 7 days a week, for let’s say 8 hours a day, that’s a total of 168 hours or £4,200. Instead it’ll take 5 hours or £125. So in the 2 or 3 hours it’s taken me to get my head around this stuff (let’s allow £75 for that too) I’ve saved myself £4000 (or 4 times what the computer cost). Not bad for an evening’s work.
How many times has your computer paid for itself?