2023 In Review And A Look Forward To 2024

Family bike ride at Harpers Ferry
Family bike ride at Harpers Ferry, November 2023

This is Annual Review number nine!

That makes this the longest career stint I’ve had. Woohoo! 🎉 (Before this, I was a Forensic Accountant for eight years.)

2023 was a great year.

Of course, it had its ups and downs, but my family and I are all healthy and safe, which is all that matters.

I was happier, healthier, and fitter than at any time since my kids were born. The year was a success from a work point of view too, although my revenue was down slightly on last year. Most importantly, I’ve rediscovered some of my mojo that I lost during the pandemic.

I’ll dive into all of this below, but let me begin with a review of my 2023 goals:

Did I Meet My 2023 Goals?

My explicit work goals for 2023 were:

  1. Create 2 new video courses – Yes, I launched Beginner Apps Script and The AI Playbook for Google Sheets
  2. Send my Google Sheets Tips newsletter every Monday – Yes,I sent 50 editions
  3. Hit 70k newsletter subscribers – Close! I reached 65,110.

What about non-work goals? Here’s how it went:

  • Have another healthy year and get fit – Yes!!
  • Century bike ride (100-mile ride) – Yes, at last! After missing this goal for the past few years, I made it a priority this year. I did 97 miles, 110 miles, and 142 mile rides.
  • Multi-day adventures locally – yes, I managed a handful of local, overnight bike tours.
  • C&O canal tour with my boys – no, we didn’t manage it this year. Bumping this one to next year.
  • 25 nights camping – I managed 11 nights camping.
  • Weekly brainstorming hike with my wife – sometimes, but it’s hard to do consistently.
  • Read 20 books – I managed to read 15 books.

2023 Highlights

1) New Courses

In early April, I launched my Beginner Apps Script course:

Beginner Apps Script

It’s a comprehensive course designed as a fun and practical way to learn Apps Script.

In early October, I launched The AI Playbook for Google Sheets:

The AI Playbook for Google Sheets

2) Google Sheets Tips Newsletter

I had another consistent year sending out 50 editions of my weekly Google Sheets Tips newsletter. The latest newsletter went out to 52,280 people.

If you’re one of those folks, thank you for your support!

And if you’re not, and you’d like to level up your Sheets skills with a bite-size tutorial each week, you can sign up here.

3) Community & Partnerships

Although I didn’t attend any in-person events this year, there were still many meaningful partnerships and friendships through the year.

And I’m truly honored to be part of the Google Developer Expert community for another year 🙏

Google Developer Expert 2023

4) Website

It was always going to be tough to follow last year’s big push on web content. I published 12 posts this year (not including this one):

Blog Post Publication Frequency

This year, my favorite posts to research and write were:

Bullet Chart Sparkline In Google Sheets

Join The Dots In Google Sheets

Create Google Sheets Formulas with AI

Traffic to the website is still strong, but it has slowly declined through the year. Some of that is probably due to publishing fewer posts. Competition is also a lot higher now than when I started, and improves every year.

Website Traffic

(December is not showing a full month of stats.)

5) Sponsorships and Diversifying Revenue

Over 90% of my revenue still comes from my courses, but I’m working to diversify and increase the share from a handful of other sources.

Newsletter sponsorships is up and running and going well. I’m looking forward to building on this foundation in 2024. If you’re a brand looking to reach an audience of 50k+ professionals, you can sponsor a newsletter here.

Referrals: I don’t do any consulting work myself anymore, but I have a great relationship with my friends at Set & Forget. I’m delighted to continue this partnership into 2024 and have no hesitation in recommending them as your partner to help you realize your Workspace and automation goals. If you have a project in mind, I’m happy to make a referral for you. Start by completing this expression of interest form.

Affiliate income: The smallest slice of the pie, but it runs on autopilot. I’ll keep it going in 2024 and see what happens!

6) Non-work highlights

Looking back across the whole year, 2023 was a good one! Lots of memories that I’ll treasure for life.

My boys are growing up fast and I’m enjoying parenting more now that we can do a lot more things together. We’ve been hiking, biking, paddle-boarding, and rock climbing this year. At home, I’ve enjoyed countless hours of football (soccer) with my youngest son. And biking, lego, and robotics with my eldest.

I worked hard on the bike this year. For the first time since my kids were born, I felt like I reversed the slow middle-aged decline in fitness levels. Remarkably, I’m finishing the year fitter than I began it. I haven’t been able to say that for a decade. And it feels good.

We did lots of traveling as a family this year, both locally and further afield.

Travel and adventure highlights from the year:

Sunset in Snowdonia, Wales, during a traverse of the Welsh 3,000ers
Campsite at Ohiopyle during a 6-day tour of the C&O/GAP trails
Campsite at Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, during a 6-day bike tour of the C&O/GAP trails

2023 Challenges

It’s said that your 30’s and 40’s are your busiest years. You’re raising young children and are in the peak years of your career.

I’m in my early 40’s and I can confirm this is true. 😂

My biggest challenge continues to be trying to balance everything. It feels like I can never give enough attention to each different part of my life. It’s like the spinning plates game. You dash from plate to plate giving each a spin. Enough attention (and momentum) to keep it spinning until you can return.

This year I had a small dip in revenue for the business. This is not a fun feeling after seeing consistent growth for the past few years. There were two main causes: 1) my energy was elsewhere at times this year, and 2) my Black Friday sale underperformed compared to my forecast.

So I’m looking to create fresh new courses in 2024 as well as grow my audience.

Looking Forward To 2024

2024 Work Goals

Each year, I seem to set fewer and fewer goals. I think I’ve come to realize that though I can predict what Q1 might look like, the rest of the year is something of a mystery. Therefore, I’ll set some early-year goals and keep the rest of the year open!

Having said that, there are two annual goals that are somewhat predictable and in my control, that I will shoot for:

  1. Send 50 editions of my weekly Google Sheets newsletter
  2. Hit 80k newsletter subscribers

Next, those near-term goals for Q1, including a new course or two:

  1. I’m considering a Google Sheets Design Course teaching you how to make your Sheets look professional
  2. I want to create a Data Visualization course for Google Sheets
  3. Implementing a better onboarding system for new subscribers
  4. SEO push to claw back some lost traffic
  5. Explore new growth strategies in 2024: I think this will be a big push on YouTube! ▶️

Beyond that, I’m sure that AI will continue to play a big role in my work. In fact, I’m certain that I’ll be creating lots more Sheets + AI tutorials in 2024.

Other 2024 Goals

  1. Have another healthy year and get fitter.
  2. A C&O canal bike tour with my boys.
  3. A 200 mile double century ride.
  4. 25 nights camping, with at least 1 night per calendar month.
  5. An adventure trip with my brother.
  6. A trip home to see family in the UK.
  7. Weekly brainstorming hike with my wife.
  8. Read 15 books.

Thank You!

Thank you for your support on this journey. A big thank you for taking my courses and reading the weekly newsletters and articles. I hope they’ve been helpful to you!

Best wishes to you all for 2024! I’m excited to see what 2024 brings. See you around.

Previous years

2022 In Review And A Look Forward To 2023

2022 Family Photo
Family at Chimney Rock State Park, NC, October 2022

This is Annual Review number eight!

Eight years working for myself. That’s as long as my first career as a forensic accountant. On balance, I prefer this one.

2022 was my most successful year as a creator. I beat last year’s revenue, sent my newsletter every week, grew my email list to > 50k, and published more content than ever before on this site.

That being said, 2022 was also a strange year. A transition year after two difficult years of the pandemic. We moved forward, but 2022 still had its fair share of ups and downs.

Let’s begin with a review of 2022:

Did I Meet My 2022 Goals?

I set fewer work goals for 2022, and instead focused on a handful of bigger goals:

  • Create 3 new video courses – Not quite. I launched 2 new video courses in 2022.
  • Run cohort 3 of Pro Sheets – No. I did not run a cohort course this year.
  • Send my Google Sheets Tips newsletter every Monday – Yes, it’s one of the favorite parts of my job.
  • Hit 60k newsletter subscribers – Close. I’m at around 54k newsletter subs now (although I’m overdue a list clean).

What about other goals?

I always set some non-work goals too, to ensure I live intentionally. Here’s how 2022 played out:

  • Twelve challenge walks – Yes, I did a lot of great hiking this year and stopped counting after a while. I climbed my local mountain 20 times, walked a marathon distance in a day, and went backpacking along the Appalachian Trail.
  • Family trip to the UK this summer – Yes, we had a fantastic trip!
  • Complete a century bike ride (100 miles) – No, unfortunately. I failed on this one although I had some memorable bike rides of shorter distances.
  • Have another healthy year – Yes, mostly, although it feels like we’ve been stuck in a cycle of sicknesses this fall. We rounded out the year with COVID in December, thankfully it was mild.
  • 10 nights camping this year – Nearly! I finished the year on 7, which is more than 2019, 2020, and 2021 combined. I want to increase this in 2023.
  • Read 20 books – I read 16 books this year.
  • Weekly brainstorming hike with my wife – Yes, when we were healthy. We didn’t manage every week because of illnesses, injuries, etc.

2022 Highlights

1) New Courses

In May 2022, I launched The QUERY Function in Google Sheets course.

The QUERY Function in Google Sheets

This was a really fun course to create because the QUERY function is such an interesting and complex function to play with. It’s a rabbit hole that goes deeper and deeper the more you look.

It’s been a popular course, with 743 students enrolled so far this year.

In October this year, I launched another course, called: Lambda Functions 10-Day Challenge

Google Sheets Lambda Functions 10-Day Challenge Course

This free course covers the 10 new functions introduced to Google Sheets this year.

So far, 2,873 students have enrolled in this course.

2) Improving Business Infrastructure

I spend a considerable portion of Q1 and Q2 working on stuff behind-the-scenes, to get my website and email systems in the best possible shape going forward. Specifically:

  • I migrated from MailChimp to ConvertKit for my emails, and I’m enjoying it a LOT more.
  • With the demise of Google Universal Analytics, in favor of GA4 (which seemed overly complex for my needs), I switched to the simpler Fathom Analytics. It’s perfect for me because I don’t like unnecessary complexity.
  • I made major improvements to the website speed, mostly removing redundant JavaScript code and old plugins, and optimizing large images.
  • Improvements to the onboarding process and site UX.
  • Improvements to SEO on the majority of the posts

3) Google Sheets Tips Newsletter

I sent my weekly Google Sheets newsletter every Monday, except for Christmas week.

It’s the backbone of my business and I love receiving responses from readers each week.

I plan to write a newsletter every week again this year.

4) Website Content

Last year, I listed the website under the challenges category, on account of the falling traffic numbers.

To address this, I improved my site speed (see point 2 above) and I published more content than in any previous year.

Blog Posts Published Per Year

This year, my favorite posts to research and write were:

I also enjoyed writing these posts:

Website traffic has been relatively steady all year, hovering around 300 – 350k pageviews per month. I’m pretty happy with where this stands, especially after seeing some decline in traffic last year.

Fathom Analytics website traffic
My site traffic in the Fathom Analytics dashboard. The first full month was March.

5) Community & Partnerships

I’m grateful and honored to be part of the Google Developer Expert Community for another year. I’ve learned so much through this group and made some great friends along the way.

Google Developer Expert Award

This year, I had meaningful and enjoyable collaborations with Teachable, Coefficient, and Measure Summit. Thank you and I look forward to working together again in the future!

6) Founders Summit

Although I didn’t attend any conferences myself this year, the kids and I did accompany my wife to the Founder Summit Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. It was a family-friendly event, held at a resort center deep in the woods. We were there during peak fall colors, when the woods put on an incredible show:

Wintergreen Falls, Dupont State Forest, NC
Wintergreen Falls, Dupont State Forest, NC

My wife had an amazing week talking with other founders and generating ideas for her new company, They Got Acquired (a media and data company covering company acquisitions in the $100K-$50M range).

Meanwhile, I had a fantastic few days with the kids taking them climbing, hiking, doing art projects, and meeting other families. I was really proud of both boys for taking a real crack at the climbing wall.

Rock Climbing Photo

The conference also provided childcare, so I had some time myself too. I went hiking with my good friend, and fellow course creator, Kevin of Data School, and I did some brainstorming for my business.

7) Non-Work Highlights

Watching my boys grow up and making memories with them. Parenting is the most rewarding (and by far the most challenging!) thing I’ve ever done.

We spent 2.5 weeks in the UK this summer. My brother and his family came from Australia too, so it was the second time all the cousins got together. We had a fabulous trip and spent good quality time with my family. We stayed in the Peak District National Park so we did plenty of hikes and sightseeing. My brother and I did a 26 mile walk along the edges, and I had a great day out with one of my oldest friends, Alistair, scrambling in the Dark Peak.

2022 was a much better year for adventures than the past few years. Things are easier now that my boys are older.

There were lots of standout local adventures this year. The highlights were:

Another hightlight this year has been watching my wife launch and grow her new business: They Got Acquired

2022 Challenges


Burnout? Depression? I don’t know where one ends and the other begins, but I’ve been running on an empty tank at times this year, especially in the second half.

At times, it was a struggle to create new work and I didn’t have the energy to run the cohort course in 2022.

The cause? A combination of macro- and micro-factors.

Everything from the doom-and-gloom playing out on the world stage, to the exhaustion of parenting in the ongoing pandemic, to the incontrovertible truth of aging.

In my head, I’m still that 30-year-old athlete free to climb mountains, run ultra-marathons, and cycle across countries, but my creaking, middle-aged body tells a different story. Plagued with knee injuries and having much less time for exercise than at any previous point in my life, my fitness has slowly started ebbing away in the past few years. I’m resolved to work hard this year to claw back some of that lost fitness.

Have I got through the burnout? Yes, I believe so.

I’m excited for 2023, and to get stuck into work again (whilst also keeping my fingers crossed that we avoid getting sick and the boys can stay in school). Doing more outdoor activities away from my computer this fall and winter helped tremendously, so I’ll keep doing that.

Looking Forward To 2023

2023 Work Goals

Like last year, I’m going to set a handful of big goals to focus on exclusively:

  1. Create 2 new video courses (the first of which will be a new Apps Script course in Q1)
  2. Send my Google Sheets Tips newsletter every Monday
  3. Hit 70k newsletter subscribers

Beyond that, I have ideas for more video courses, potentially building a members community, running my live cohort course again, writing a Google Sheets book, or something else entirely!

I have a plan for Q1, but the rest of the year is more open. I have lots of ideas but don’t have a concrete direction yet. So, one of my tasks in Q1 is to figure out the plan for the remainder of the year.

Let me know in the comments if any of these ideas resonate, or if there’s anything you’d like to see here.

Other 2023 Goals

This year, I focused most of my outdoor energy on hiking projects. In 2023, I want to shift to doing more biking and paddle boarding.

  1. Have another healthy year and get fit.
  2. Since I didn’t tick it off last year, I’ll keep the century ride (100-mile ride) on this year’s list. I last did this in 2014 and I want to get back to that level of fitness on the bike again.
  3. Multi-day adventures locally: backpacking, bikepacking, and/or paddle boarding
  4. A C&O canal tour with my boys for 5 or 6 days
  5. 25 nights camping, with at least 1 night out each calendar month
  6. Weekly brainstorming hike with my wife
  7. Read 20 books

Thank You

As always, I like to finish by saying thank you for your support.

Thank you for reading my articles and newsletters, for watching my video courses, or for attending my webinars. Thank you for this opportunity to help you get better at working with Google Sheets and Apps Script.

2022 was a great year on balance and I’m excited for 2023.

Best wishes to all of you for 2023! See you around.

Previous years

A Behind The Scenes Look At How I Create A Technical Video Course

Last week I launched a new Google Sheets course — The QUERY Function In Google Sheets — so I thought it would be interesting and helpful to share how such a course comes about.

It’s my 14th online course and my 19th launch. Along the way, I’ve made just about every mistake in the book, but I’ve now settled on a reliable framework for online course creation, the outline of which I share below.

Online Course Screenshot

I think about technical video course creation in six distinct phases:

  1. Ideation
  2. Research
  3. Planning
  4. Course Creation
  5. Launch
  6. Post-launch

Continue reading A Behind The Scenes Look At How I Create A Technical Video Course

2021 In Review And A Look Forward To 2022

First hike of 2022!
Ringing in 2022 with a family hike

This is Annual Review number seven!

I wrote the first annual review in the year my eldest son was born. He’ll be 7 this year. How time flies!

As always, I’m super grateful that I get to write this because it means I’m still working for myself and building this business for another year.

Let’s begin with a review of 2021:

Did I Meet My 2021 Goals?

2021 was of course the second year of the pandemic, so once again, work hours were more limited than normal, and there was an undercurrent of stress throughout the year.

Overall though, from a work perspective, 2021 was a great year.

I had my best year of revenue to date, of which 95% came from course sales. I launched and ran two amazing cohorts of my live Pro Sheets course, created one new online course, and finished updating my course catalog.

Outside of work, I finally saw (most of) my UK family again at the very end of 2021, after over two years of nothing but video calls. These few weeks with my UK family were a highlight of the year.

Aside from that, we had lots of great family adventures locally and I did tons of great hiking in our local mountains.

All in all, 2021 was a good year given the circumstances.

Each year, I take the goals that I wrote down at the beginning of 2021 and see how I fared:

2021 Work Goals

  • Run 3 cohorts of the new live cohort based course Pro SheetsYes, and no. I ran two cohorts!
  • Run SheetsCon 2021 in March – No, I realized early in 2021, with the pandemic ongoing, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do this and create the new cohort course, so I paused SheetsCon for 2021.
  • Improve the SEO and site speed of benlcollins – Yes, and no. I did improve both, but there’s still work to do.
  • Publish 30 long-form blog posts – Not quite… I published 26 posts.
  • Publish a comprehensive guide to REGEX in Google Sheets – Yes, here it is.
  • Hit 60k newsletter subscribers – No, my list growth plateaud in the second half of 2022 and I finished the year around 45k subs.
  • Send a Google Sheets tip email every week for the next year – Yes, I sent my Google Sheets tips newsletter every Monday 🙂
  • Create one new on-demand video course – Yes, I created a dedicated REGEX course.
  • One technical project, related to Sheets/Apps Script/Data in some way. – Yes, I wrote a script to control my home Nest thermostats. I worked on a few other project ideas but didn’t complete them.

Other 2021 Goals

  • See my UK family! – Yes, finally, after 2+ years 🙂
  • Have another healthy year – Yes, thankfully
  • Exercise regularly: 4 hike or bikes each week, 2 yoga/strength – Yes, although I’ve no idea if I reached this cadence and frankly, it doesn’t matter. I felt like a did a solid amount of outdoor exercise. Yoga fell off my radar from Q3 onwards and I didn’t do as much biking as I’d hoped but I did a lot more hiking than I’ve ever done!
  • Go camping again! I used to do a lot of camping trips but it’s been a few years since I last went 🙁 – Technically, yes, because I managed 1 night, but not as much as I’d hoped, haha! Bring on 2022.
  • Take my boys out on lots of adventures and camping trips. – Yes, plenty of adventures, but only one camping trip
  • Read 30 books (same target as 2020) – No, and I need to lower my expectations 😉 I read 18 books in 2021

2021 Highlights

Let’s look at the highlights from 2021:

1) Pro Sheets

My biggest work goal for the year was to launch a live cohort training course, called Pro Sheets. I ran two cohorts in 2021, in April/May and November/December, and it was a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Pro Sheets is a 5-week long, live, online training course where we meet 3 times a week for instruction around data analysis and automation with Google Sheets and Apps Script.

I had 37 students in the first cohort and 42 students in the second cohort, which was a huge success.

Pro Sheets community

Running a cohort course is an enormous amount of work so I want to say thanks to a number of folks who helped me along the way:

  • Billy Broas’ Keystone Accelerator program in January was a huge help.
  • Jenny Sauer-Klein’s Scaling Intimacy training in February, which was really helpful for me in figuring out how to run successful and immersive online experiences
  • Katey, my wonderful teaching assistant for both cohorts
  • Jo, my amazing assistant behind the scenes who helps run my business

For a sense of what Pro Sheets is all about, have a listen to what the students from the first cohort had to say:

In 2022, I plan to run at least one more cohort of Pro Sheets — cohort 3 — and implement a number of improvements. Looking forward to this!

2) Other Online Courses

At the beginning of the year, I finally finished updating all my courses after re-recording the Automation With Apps Script course.

Over the summer, I created one new online video course:

This year I launched my guide to the powerful Google Sheets REGEX functions: The Google Sheets REGEX Formula Cookbook:

Google Sheets REGEX formulas cookbook

This course was a real joy to create, as it was technically interesting to research and teach.

3) Google Sheets Tips Newsletter

I sent my weekly Google Sheets newsletter every Monday, except for Christmas week.

It’s the backbone of my business and I love receiving responses from readers each week.

I plan to write a newsletter every week again this year.

4) Website Content

As you’ll see below, my website gets a mention under the challenges section of 2021 too.

But it’s still been a great year, although new post creation slowed down in the second half of the year.

This year, my favorite posts to research and write were:

5) Non-Work Highlights

Lots of non-work highlights this year, mostly on our local trails.

Undoubtedly THE highlight of the year was seeing my UK family again. From the surprise visit of my brother from Australia to the epic hikes we did together (3 peaks, Raven Rocks), and the joy of Christmas with grandparents reunited with grandkids, it was a wonderful three weeks!

Another highlight of the year was the summer road trip that Lexi, me, and the boys took around our home state of West Virginia. We did a big clockwise loop around the State, taking in the mountains, the new National Park, cute towns, cabins in the woods, and lots of history. It was a memorable way to spend 3 weeks this summer when most other options were still off the table because of the pandemic.

Other specific highlights that stand out from the year are all local adventures:

My brother Pete and me on the Appalachian Trail
My brother Pete and me on the Appalachian Trail
Lexi and me at White Rock overlook on the Appalachian Trail
Lexi and me at White Rock overlook on the Appalachian Trail

Challenges In 2021

It goes without saying that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continued to be the major challenge of the year. Staying safe and sane, whilst growing the business and running a household, was one long risk-assessment-and-schedule-juggling-nightmare. But we got through it, and somehow came out the other side fitter, healthier, and in a better place than we were at the beginning of 2021.

I’m relieved to not have a “health” subheading under the challenges of 2021. Let’s see if I can keep it that way in 2022.

Of course, most of the challenges of 2021 were related to navigating covid, but there were a couple of big work challenges too:

Website Traffic Decline

This year, I’ve decided to list my website under “Challenges” as well as “Highlights”.

Yes, I did publish 26 posts in 2021 and my overall traffic figures were similar to 2020 (over 2 million unique visitors to this site and nearly 4 million page views!).

But… since the summer, when the traffic peaked at over 400k pageviews and 255k users a month, it has steadily declined back to around 200k pageviews/month. I believe this is partly because the frequency of my posts decreased, some of my popular posts are getting old (and thus losing ranking spots), and there’s much more competition in the Google Sheets space now than there ever has been.

benlcollins web traffic

Email List Growth Plateau

My goal at the beginning of 2021 was to hit 60k newsletter subscribers. A lofty goal to be sure, but not impossible.

I missed it and ended the year on around 45k subscribers.

So I’m keeping this same 60k goal for 2022 and dedicating more time to email list growth this year.

My email list grew at a steady clip for the first nine months of the year but plateaued for the last three months. I believe this is due to a combination of decreasing web traffic (see above) and higher unsubscribes during a couple of months where I did a lot of course launches (the additional sales emails result in higher unsubscribe rates for a short period).

Email List Growth

One of my big challenges for 2022 is to figure out how to grow my audience (see more below).

Other Challenges

Well, not really a challenge as such, but I really missed not attending any in-person conferences this year. The Google Next conference online is not a patch on the in-person event. I thoroughly enjoyed my trips to San Francisco in 2018 and 2019 and felt inspired for months afterward. Fingers crossed Next can happen in-person again this year!

Looking Forward To 2022

I’m excited and hopeful for 2022.

I’m hopeful that we’ll see an end to this wretched pandemic, although I thought this last year and look where we are (record cases! Thanks, Omicron! 😡)

With each passing year, I gain a better understanding of my business. What works and what doesn’t. Which levers make a difference and which ones don’t.

I’ve realized that growing my business boils down to two main levers: i) growing my email list, and ii) creating more courses.

With that in mind, my goals in 2022 are directly in line with increasing one or both of these levers. If I run a marketing campaign that results in hundreds or thousands of new subs, then that will correlate with increased revenues down the line. Similarly, if I can create great new courses for my existing audiences then I can increase my revenue.

2022 Work Goals

In no particular order:

  1. Create 3 new video courses (the first of which will be a dedicated QUERY function course 🤩)
  2. Run cohort 3 of Pro Sheets
  3. Send my Google Sheets Tips newsletter every Monday
  4. Hit 60k newsletter subscribers

That’s it.

You’ll notice that I’m not setting a goal for posts published this year or other technical projects etc. I’m sticking to fewer, bigger goals. Goals that fall into my two buckets of i) list growth, and/or ii) new courses.

Other 2022 Goals

  1. Complete a century bike ride (100 miles). It’s been a few years since my last century rides and I miss those long days out on the bike.
  2. Twelve challenge walks (walks that start and/or finish at home and are a challenge by virtue of their length or difficulty)
  3. Family trip to the UK this summer
  4. Have another healthy year
  5. 10 nights camping this year (at the very least, I want to beat the low target of 1 from last year!)
  6. Read 20 books
  7. Weekly brainstorming hike with my wife

2022 Plan

My plan this year is to be super-efficient with my time and ruthless with what projects I pursue.

My approach is to block my time by day. Previously, I’ve blocked my time into hour blocks, but eventually, the whole system breaks down and merges into one soup of activities with a large amount of associated context switching costs. This year, I want to stick to this weekly schedule as closely as possible and for as long as possible (provided it works!).

I’m sure it will help me get more done in the same or less amount of time.

So, Monday and Tuesday will be reserved for work on new courses.

Wednesday will be my admin and miscellaneous day, where I get stuff done.

And Thursday and Friday will be dedicated to marketing and list growth.

The simplicity of this approach is deeply appealing to me too.

2022 plan

Thank You

If you’ve read this far, thank you!

Thank you for being a supporter of my work. Thank you for being part of this weird little corner of the internet where I continue my mission to create the world’s best resources for learning Google Sheets and data analysis.

Best wishes to all of you for 2022!

Finally, a huge thank you to my wife, Alexis Grant, who has been my biggest supporter from day 1. I couldn’t do this without you!

Previous years

Create A Student Learning Loop In Your Cohort-Based Course

I recently finished teaching my first cohort-based course, the first edition of Pro Sheets Accelerator.

Pro Sheets Accelerator is a live cohort-based course, where students go through the experience together over the course of 5 weeks. We had 37 students in this first cohort.

Rather than watching pre-recorded course videos alone, students met multiple times a week to learn together in a live setting on Google Meet. In addition, we had office hours, guest sessions, a community platform for Q&A, weekly recaps, templates, and replays of the live sessions online.

If video courses are all about the content and information, then cohort-based courses are all about community, accountability, and transformation.

The Cohort-Based Course Student Learning Loop

Student Learning Loop
Cohort-Based Course Student Learning Loop

The Student Learning Loop is a mechanism in your course to facilitate student transformations.

Cohort students pay a premium so they expect a premium outcome. They want to be transformed by the experience.

As the teacher/facilitator you have to create the mechanisms that enable students to have these transformative experiences.

There are countless videos on YouTube teaching your topic, so instead, you have to create an environment where students can undergo a transformation. Watching a YouTube video shows you a new technique. Attending a live session and participating gets you implementing a new technique. For many folks, this makes a big difference.

Let’s walk through the full cohort-based course Student Learning Loop, using specific examples from my Pro Sheets Accelerator course.

Student Learning Loop Phase 1: Learning

Learning happens in the first half of the Student Learning Loop, represented by the blue arc in this diagram:

Student Learning Loop Phase 1
Student Learning Loop Phase 1

The goal here is to get students into the zone of proximal development. To take them outside their comfort zones and stretch their abilities, but not so far that you lose them.

There’s a sweet spot where the majority of your students will be fully absorbed and learning.

There are two components in this phase:

  1. live sessions
  2. community forum for Q&A

Live Sessions

Pro Sheets Live Session
Pro Sheets Live Session 2

How do you conduct an engaging live session teaching technical topics via Google Meet or Zoom?

The key is to make it active with frequent state changes.

You can break up long slide monologues with demos, exercises, and breakout rooms.

A typical 90-minute Pro Sheets Accelerator session looked like this:

  • Ben introduction to reinforce the journey and introduce the first new topic (10 minutes)
  • Ben live demo in a Google Sheet or Apps Script (10 minutes)
  • Student exercise (or breakout room) to practice themselves (20 minutes)
  • Topic consolidation and Q&A as a whole group (10 minutes)
  • Ben slides to introduce the second new topic (5 minutes)
  • Ben live demo of second new topic (10 minutes)
  • Second student exercise or breakout room (15 minutes)
  • Topic consolidation and Q&A as a whole group (5 minutes)
  • Closing discussion: recap what we learned today (5 minutes)

Frequent activities keep the students engaged, which makes for an effective learning environment.

Community Forum For Q&A

Hands up if you’ve thought of great questions after a live session?

Of course you have! We’ve all been there.

Not only that but some students aren’t comfortable asking questions in front of a group. And sometimes students miss a live session but still want to ask questions.

So it’s critical to have a place for students to ask questions about the materials asynchronously, outside the live sessions.

I use the community platform Circle to host the Pro Sheets Accelerator community. It’s an amazing tool that let me create a welcoming space for students to ask their questions.

Here’s an example of the asynchronous learning process from Pro Sheets Accelerator:

IFS, SWITCH, and CHOOSE Functions Example

We covered the IFS function, SWITCH function, and CHOOSE function as part of session 4, in week 2. For many students, these were new functions so they were definitely outside their comfort zones during the live session demo and exercises.

After class, students practiced using these functions in their own work and could ask questions in our Circle forum:

Pro Sheets Circle Forum SWITCH function answer
Pro Sheets Circle Forum SWITCH function answer

In this particular example, a fellow student helped answer the question.

This peer coaching is another example of the value of cohort-based courses. Everyone is both a student and a teacher, bringing their own unique skills and experiences to the table.

Student Learning Loop Phase 2: Assimilation and Application

The second half of the Student Learning Loop happens when students incorporate information from the live sessions into their own workflows.

Both the office hours and the community forum help students do this effectively.

This is the second half of the Student Learning Loop, shown in green:

Student Learning Loop Phase 2
Student Learning Loop Phase 2

Student learning doesn’t stop once the lesson ends.

In fact, it’s really just the beginning.

True learning happens when students apply knowledge from the lessons to their own specific situations. Students benefit enormously from rapid feedback, so they don’t get stuck for long and learn quickly from their mistakes.

There are three components in this phase:

  1. live office hours
  2. more questions in the community forum
  3. replays of live sessions

Live Office Hours

In Pro Sheets, we had live weekly office hours. These were 90-minute, drop-in, unstructured sessions where students could ask whatever questions they wanted.

They were a place for students to ask specific questions from their own domains.

We used a Google Sheet to collect questions, which then served as a repository of that knowledge for future reference.

Pro Sheets Office Hours Sheet
Pro Sheets Office Hours Question Sheet

More Questions in the Community Forum

Throughout phase 2, students have lots of questions so the community plays an integral part in the assimilation and application of knowledge.

Students deepen their knowledge by asking and answering each other’s questions in the community forum.

Students also share their work wins with the community to get the validation they’re on track, which builds their confidence and reinforces the learning experience.

QUERY Function Example

For example, in week 2, I covered how to use the QUERY function to solve a challenging data analysis problem. The students were given a dataset of fires in New York State and asked to answer the question:

What is the average fire length in days, by county?

It was a challenging question because it required a query on top of another query (akin to a sub-query in SQL).

And here’s one student sharing their answer with the community:

Pro Sheets Circle Forum QUERY function answer
Pro Sheets Circle Forum QUERY function answer

Replays and Templates

I use Teachable to host my on-demand video courses so it was a natural place to also host the video replays of the live session recordings for the Pro Sheets Accelerator course.

Teachable allows me to present the video recordings in a syllabus, with links to all of the template files.

Students have lifetime access to these video recordings and templates, so they can watch the live session replays and review topics as many times as they want.

This repetition helps cement the understanding.

Pro Sheets replay on Teachable
Pro Sheets Session 1 replay on Teachable

Completing the Loop

Some students will progress through the loop multiple times a week, on the back of every live session. Others might progress at a slower pace and go through the loop once a week, whilst for others, it might happen a couple of times throughout the whole course.

Students undergo a transformation when they go through the learning loop. They return to work with new abilities and newfound confidence.

And that is the north star outcome we’re aiming for as course creators.

Evidence of A Transformation

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

Pro Sheets Accelerator Cohort 1
Virtual high-fives during the final live session

I used Google Forms to conduct pre-course and post-course surveys, so I could measure and understand the transformation occurring at different stages of the Student Learning Loop framework.

In the post-course feedback form, I asked lots of questions, including what was the most valuable thing about the course, what they liked about the Circle community, the project, and the office hours. Here are some of the answers for Pro Sheets:

“It was great to work on a project during the week knowing that if I got stuck I could ask for help on Friday [office hours].”

“I’m really enjoying the course. I find myself thinking about the subject matter at odd hours, so it’s really taking root in my head.”

“Everyone in Circle was SO HELPFUL! And I loved seeing other peoples’ projects and questions. I got so many new ideas and perspectives. I also loved that in Circle we could build off of each others’ ideas. Like, the “Adding Notes” topic – you started with the basic idea but then so many people chimed in to make improvements. I have that script in at least 3 of my sheets now!”

“The workflow and BAR models are very useful concepts that I knew in a practical sense but needed to see more concretely. I feel like I moved forward on Array formulas, queries, custom functions, and Index-Match-Match.”

See also: 5 Insights From Taking A Live Cohort-Based Course

My Twitter thread on the life cycle of Pro Sheets Accelerator, from conception to the post-course survey.

What’s next for Pro Sheets Accelerator?

This fall, I’m running the Pro Sheets Accelerator course again.

Hop onto my mailing list if you want to stay in the loop on both these courses.