How to use analytics to make yourself a more productive human being

Most people I’ve ever worked with spend a lot of time doing two very specific, and at-cross-purposes, things: they (a) complain about how busy they are all the time, and they (b) embrace new trends when they arise — and when their boss up-sells them — like, for example, “Big Data.”

The whole idea behind the concept of “Big Data” is pretty simple — rather than old-school managers relying on “gut” and “feel,” let’s take all this information we’re now tracking and storing and use it to make more informed decisions.

In the retail industry, semi-legends (Apple Store guys!) are already smacking that concept in the face. But just like you can use Toyota’s processes to make your own life more effective and productive, so too can you use “Big Data” and “analytics” to make yourself more productive. And in reality, it’s not even that hard.

It requires a bit of work up front, yes, but here’s the basic idea.

  • The first step is meeting with your manager and setting goals for the upcoming 4 months, 6 months, 1 year, whatever it may be. This can be a bit of a train wreck, yes. But in most organizations, this step has to happen to put the whole thing in motion.
  • The second step is to organize these goals into basic groups, such as “Core Responsibilities” (the main things you do), “Managing Others” (if you’re in that boat), “Admin/Rote Tasks,” “Meetings” (chart this, yes), “Down Time” (it’s important), and anything else you feel is relevant.
  • The third step is to make a chart. On the left side, vertically, put the days of the week. On the top, horizontally, put the basic groups you just assigned.
  • It will look like this:
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  • The fourth step is doing this for 2–3 weeks, to get a baseline idea of how it looks.
  • The fifth step is adding up the different categories for the three weeks and figuring out how much time, in a given three-week span, you’re spending on different elements of your job.
  • The sixth step is taking a meeting with your manager and running the three-week data.

Six steps. A bit of work, yes, but pretty basic — and the returns can be really strong. You could see, for example, that meetings are cutting into core responsibilities, or managing people has suffered via rote tasks. This could allow you, over a broader sample size, to make some changes to how you structure your day/week.

I used to have this boss at ESPN, right … and literally three-four times a week, she would tell everyone that she needed an assistant or needed like 3–4 more people in headcount. It was moderately insulting to the people that worked for her at the time, because none of us felt amazingly, soul-crushingly busy and yet she apparently thought there needed to be 3–4 more of us. Anyway. My point is, she got caught up in “The Busy Trap” or “The Currency Of Being Busy.” Many people do.

If she had actually sat down and tracked her time across a month, she probably would have realized that she’s busy, yes, but not superbly busy — and, in fact, the easiest way for her to figure out how to re-allocate her time would be a small, personal application of Big Data.

Work is too much about rushing to the next thing, including the next assumption about where your time is going. It needs to be more about stopping and thinking. That’s the bottom line.

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and I’m a member of the BlogPoets network. My deal: I try to think differently about work, the future of work, leadership, management, marketing, organizational development, customer experience, and more. I’m out here trying to chase real professional connection and collaboration, not just 200K page views. Anyone want to talk? (I also do freelance and ghostwriting work, if anyone’s into that.)

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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