Chapter 10: Tracking Metrics: How Data Analysis Can Help You Use Time Better
You'd hardly be worth your IT salt if you weren't familiar with the concept of big data — and maybe a little sick of the phrase getting thrown around by anyone and everyone. But while big data has become a big buzzword in recent years, it does still have some valuable applications for freelancers and contractors. Specifically, according to data scientist and Datascope Analytics cofounder Mike Stringer , IT contractors can benefit from data analysis to help them do more with their time.
That's right: through the magic of data analysis, you can do more with the precious minutes you have. We'll offer a play-by-play for improving your daily productivity in a moment, but first, a note on Stringer's approach to data analytics, which we found pretty valuable.
When he talks about data analysis, Stringer emphasizes that, more than a set of tools, "analytics is a way of thinking about a business." He notes, "If you try to start thinking more analytically or scientifically about your business, that can change a lot of the things you do."
For example, rather than getting to the end of the day feeling frustrated and wondering where the time goes, you could approach the problem from a data-analysis perspective and ask yourself, "Where does all the time go?" From there, it's just another problem to solve.
Figuring Out Where the Time Goes (and How to Use it Better)
Shawn Veltman , strategic lead at management and technology consulting firm Peritas Solutions , warns that small-business owners need to be aware that their time is valuable. As in: if you're spending two hours a day on nontechnical tasks you could easily pay someone else to do, consider outsourcing.
"The trap that very-small-business owners fall into," says Veltman, "is forgetting that their time is valuable, even when they're not working." It's the classic problem of not wanting to hire someone to do something you can do yourself — but if doing that task would require you to sacrifice sleep or family time, it's usually better to outsource.
So how can you use your time better (without spending more money than you have)?
Veltman suggests this strategy:
- Install time-tracking software like RescueTime (there's a free version available online). Work as you normally do for a couple of weeks to get a realistic idea of how you spend your days.
- Look at the data. Find areas where you're spending more time than you should.
- Determine the overlap between "takes a lot of time" and "I don't like doing this."
Maybe you dilly-dally when you're supposed to be generating leads or making sales calls. Maybe you read the news when you're supposed to be sending invoices.
Whatever the problem, know that there's a solution. And the data will help make that solution clearer. As Stringer points out, "Using data to make decisions forces you to overcome your biases." So if you've convinced yourself you'll get better at sales if you stick to it but are wasting hours every week avoiding the phone, it may be time to hire a contract salesperson.
To make the process of finding a solution to your biggest time drains a little easier, try these online resources (also listed in the Resources section):
- RescueTime . As mentioned above, this is a great, free app that tracks the way you're currently using time.
- SelfControl . If you thought you couldn't outsource self-control, think again. This app lets you block websites for predetermined periods of time. So based on what you discover in your data, you could make it much harder to dawdle.
- QuickBooks . We all know that time roughly equals money. This software helps you see your finances at a glance so you can determine whether there's room in the budget to outsource the tasks you're sick of doing.
- Mint.com . This spending software offers a snapshot of where your money goes today so you can find places to cut back and make budget room for that sales guy (or gal).
Next: Chapter 11: Managing Risk