Want to be a more productive business intelligence analyst?
You’re still reading, so the answer is clearly: Yes.
There are two ways you could go about this:
You could get caught in what I call the “Google grinder,” looking futilely for actionable tips while going down the Wonderland rabbit hole that is online content. This isn’t the best use of your time, however.
Alternately, you could actually be productive…and read this article, where I’m laying out six simple ways you can improve your productivity this week.
1. Create fact tables for Excel
Ryan Farley, CEO of LawnStarter, says his company’s business intelligence analysts have an interesting way of cutting down the time they spend in Excel:
“Something I’d say is more of a best practice—but certainly saves a ton of time and effort—is investing the time to create what we call ‘fact tables.’ These fact tables can be data sets created using your BI tool , SQL views, or SQL tables. But the basic premise is that 80% of your work in BI will come from 20% of the same data sources. Examples for us at LawnStarter lawn care include our web traffic through sign-up, our monthly active customers, and our customer segmentation. We use these things so much, that it made sense to create data sources that anybody can connect directly, so one, they don’t have to wrangle raw data, and two, to ensure that everyone doing analysis on, say, monthly active users, is guaranteed to be looking at monthly active users. Additionally, this allows people who are less experienced to be confident in their results.”
Farley’s suggestion is a great example of externalizing your memory by creating lists of easily usable information, which is another great way to be productive.
2. Externalize your memory with lists
To be your most productive, you need to free up as much of your mental energy as possible. One great way to do this is to externalize your own memory.
Rather than having your frontal lobes do the work of remembering, put all of your tasks on a to-do list. It’ll free up your brain to focus on what needs to be done at the moment, rather than all the things that need to be done that day.
In his book “The Organized Mind,” Daniel Levitin explains how to-do lists are productivity enablers: “The goal [of to-do lists] is to get projects and situations off your mind but not to lose any potentially useful ideas—externalizing your frontal lobes. Then you can step back and look at your list from an observer standpoint and not let yourself be driven by what’s the latest and loudest in your head.”
By externalizing your memory onto a pad of paper, or a Word doc, you’re freeing up your brain to take a critical, detached look at the problem at hand.
3. Choose an organizational system and stick to it
If to-do lists are small, kilobyte-sized chunks of externalized memory, organizational systems are like entire software platforms for your brain. If you don’t have an organizational system, definitely get one.
Levitin recommends choosing a system that already exists. So, if you’re having trouble coming up with how to organize your files, keep it simple and go alphabetical. Or, you could pick a successful, existing organizational system, such as the “Critical Capabilities” Gartner uses to structure its Magic Quadrants (full content available to Gartner clients).
If you’re an overachiever, you could always craft a slightly different system, like Thomas Jefferson, who cataloged his entire library under three categories: history, philosophy, and fine arts. (In 18th-century parlance, science—computers included—would have gone under “philosophy.”)
If you do have an organizational system (I’m guessing most of you do), stick to it, and make it the backbone of everything you do at work. The brain is designed to organize things into categories, so keeping your things organized keeps your outer world in a shape your brain likes and can easily digest.
Zak Cocos, VP of Growth at LawnStarter, has a great example of creating an organized system for greater productivity:
“One issue we were running into was multiple sources of truth defined by everyone’s own SQL queries that answered similar questions. To solve this, and become more productive answering questions with data, we created a git repo with ‘sources of truth’ queries (which sometimes even define views or summary tables). This gave us a few benefits:1. Having all of these queries in one place makes us much more confident in the data and analysis we produce.2. Our queries are now version controlled, so you can see their history and progress over time.3. Because the queries are public, there is a bigger discussion and attention to detail over their accuracy This simple change made our BI more accurate, effective, and productive!”
4. Get back to nature
According to a University of Michigan study, you can improve your productivity by up to 20%, just by taking a walk in the park.
For whatever reason, doing the Thoreau-thing for even a few minutes can improve your memory and attention. Study participants took a 20-minute walk through an arboretum, and found their mental performance improved. A similar walk in an urban environment didn’t have that effect.
How powerful is nature’s effect on the mind? Enough that test subjects who looked at a picture of nature for ten minutes performed better than subjects who took another urban stroll. A 10-minute break with a coffee table book of, say, National Parks, that you can get from a library, could be worth more than navigating a busy city street.
5. Get into the daydreaming mode
By this, I don’t mean “plan your next vacation.” “Daydreaming” here refers to what Marcus Raichle calls “the default mode.” It’s a state where ideas can come in and out of your head, and “no single thought is demanding a response.”
The default mode is the opposite of conscious attention. Every time your mind wanders, it enters the default mode.
So how does the default mode make you more productive? It lets you identify connections not otherwise there. The default mode “is marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, and a relative lack of barriers between senses and concepts,” according to Levitin.
Consider organizing a few periods of your day into blocks that allow you to daydream like this. Do whatever it takes to get into this state, especially when you’re trying to come up with the answer to a particularly difficult problem. I usually get away from my desk to do this. For whatever reason, changing where I am helps me change how I think. The default mode’s penchant for coming up with connections may provide a solution from a place you didn’t even consider.
6. Block out 52-minute chunks of time
Apparently, the magic number for productivity is 52…and 17.
In a study by the Draugiem Group, those are the intervals of work and rest used by the most productive group of people in a study of workplace productivity. People who take 52-minute stretches of work, followed by 17-minute breaks, are apparently more productive.
Levitin agrees: “Difficult tasks benefit from a sustained period of concentration of fifty minutes of more, due to the amount of time it takes your brain to settle into and maintain a focused state.”
If you’re looking to get into that daydream state, consider trying out 50-minute chunks of work. It will allow you enough time to get into the default mode and further maximize your productivity.
Productivity hacks you’ve used as a business intelligence analyst?
Have any great productivity hacks? If so, I’d love to hear about them! The more you share, the more other readers benefit from ways to do more in less time.
If you’re interested in further improving your productivity, check out one of these resources:
- 5 Guaranteed Ways To Ensure Your Perception of Office Productivity Meets Reality
- I Tried These 7 Productivity Hacks from Business All-Stars
- 7 Productivity Hacks Our Team Uses to Get More Done Every Day
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