I’ve been reading MrExcel XL: The 40 Greatest Excel Tips of All Time and found this curious anecdote: the best spreadsheet modellers often remove the F1 Key from the keyboard.
This allows them to toggle quickly between the F2 key — to validate a formula in Excel — and the Escape key — to back out of that view.
Know what the F1 key does? It brings up a Help menu…. very … slowly.
These people know Excel inside and out — they do not need the Help menu! What they do need are the precious seconds of time they lost waiting for a lousy menu to launch.
Not content to leave this as a spreadsheet fluke, this got me thinking…
Life is like an Excel keyboard….
and the Escape, F1, and F2 keys are awkwardly placed together.
F2 is the soul-searching key. You want to validate your life’s work (or model).
Escape is the call to action. Regardless of your assessment, Escape gets you moving.
Then there is F1. The Help key.
The Opportunity Cost of Help
Everyone needs to call for help at some point. But the “F1 Problem” demonstrates to me what I call the “opportunity cost of help.”
The best spreadsheet modellers of life never need to call for help — the clunky Help menu just slows them down.
But this even affects the average modeller. In the time you wait for the Help menu, you might have figured out your problem just by experimenting.
Often we sit on our hands waiting for the expert to tell us what to do, while in the meantime we could have just fumbled our way to the truth. Don’t let the hidden opportunity cost of help fog your judgment!
Check your work…but don’t hover
There is a hidden beauty to the F2 and Escape keys being so close together. It demonstrates the pattern of continuous feedback and experimentation that fuels top performers. While they evaluate the past, they’re too focused on improvement to suffer from “analysis paralysis.”
Removing F1 allows for an ever quicker feedback process, preventing the desperate call for help to get in the way of shipping.
Some systems just suck.
Enough for the philosophy. Perhaps the simplest takeaway from the “F1 Problem” is that some things are just not designed well.
If anything, this just demonstrates the need to remove the F1 keys from life. These are the crutches put in your way that are meant to help you but really just slow you down. For some people, it’s an education system that discourages creativity. Others have friends who laugh at their ideas at the bar. Whatever it is, the F1 Problem pervades life.
Rip off that F1 Key! Keep shipping and improving.