How a To Do List Alone Is Not Productive

Stress is at its highest when one is unprepared.  Managing tasks, putting out fires, and meeting deadlines is difficult without a proper task management solution.

Whether you use the latest smartphone app or just pen and paper, you probably have some form of reigning in all those tasks, big and small, you must get done. Each of these tasks is multi-dimensional in that each has a priority, an effort level, deadline, and could even be related to another task or appointment.   Managing these dimensions is the key to being proactive and productive.

The problem with the to do list, is just that, it is strictly a list.   Making a list of your to do items is critical, but it does not give you the ability to set priorities in a complete manner.  In fact, the longer the to do list, the more overwhelming and difficult to mange it will be.

The solution is pretty simple.  Of course you need a list of task items, but you need integrate both the priority and scheduling.  The easiest was to do this is to schedule them on your calendar just like you would schedule a meeting or doctor’s appointment.

Scheduling your tasks takes care of a few things in one shot:

  1. It automatically sets the priority relative to not only other tasks, but your appointments.
  2. It gives you a clear start time and end time to tackle the task.
  3. It allows you focus on the immediate tasks for the day without getting overwhelmed by seeing tasks for a week or month.
  4. It sets the amount of time you need and have available to complete the task.

Using your calendar, be it a Daily Planner or Outlook, to manage your tasks is a very efficient way to be productive.  By managing a list of tasks and taking the extra step of putting them on your calendar means you are serious about being proactive and productive.  Try it today!

An Example of the Quantified Self: Steps

Wearable trackers are all the latest rage!  From a FitBit to a Microsoft Band to old school pedometers, the latest health craze is about steps.   Whether you joined the office fitness challenge or just want to get moving a bit more, the concept of tracking steps is the most popular metric of the quantified self in 2015.   What a perfect metric to start a series of posts showing examples of the quantified self.  The objective is to show the wide variety of metrics an individual can use to make their life healthier, more productive, and happier.

Tracking Activity: Steps

The graphic below is my steps history as recorded using an app called Argus on my iPhone 5S.  The app is simple, turn it on, and it does the rest.  It records steps as you move through the motion sensor.  Of course, the drawback is, it only records steps if the phone is with you and on your body.  For example, if I was on an elliptical, the phone would have to be in my pocket to record the steps, placing it on the machine doesn’t work.

Creating a Custom Quantified Data Visualization

To create the dashboard below, I entered my step data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, added a few formulas for day of week and location and picked a data visualization platform. While I could have created a few charts from a pivot table in Excel, I decided to give Qlik Sense a test drive.  Qlik Sense is a lighter, consumer oriented version of the powerful Qlikview data discovery and reporting platform.  Qlik Sense is easy to use, just select your data source (Excel in my case), select your dimensions and measures and you are off to the races.

quantified self data visualization

Using Qlik Sense to visualize steps data from Argus

Raw Data: Steps by Day

The top graph shows raw steps by calendar date.  While there isn’t too much to see here at first glance, you can see clear dips in the pattern which maybe the weekend.  You can also see the data at the right tend to be a slightly higher than the data to the left side.

Steps by Day of Week

By adding a dimension called “DayName”, we can average steps by day of week.  In the orange chart to the right, the most active day is Monday, followed by Thursday and Sunday.  The lowest is Wednesday.  Fitness improvements come with consistency.  Being the difference between highest and lowest is fairly great, we can focus on being more active on Wednesday’s.  Tracking the change over time will help us be more consistent with our activity.

Steps by Geography

I also added a dimension called “location” by tagging each day with where I was.  I often split time between Washington state and Santa Barbara with days in between flying. The green chart to the left shows a pretty interesting pattern, I am far more active when in Washington state compared to Santa Barbara, This is probably due to the recreational abundance in Washington, such as the hiking trails around Mt. Baker and the walking we do while downtown.  Santa Barbara is also a much more isolated location by comparison.  Perhaps, if I want to be more active, I should stay in Washington state.

The Fundamental, Visual Flaw

You might be asking, what flaw is there is there in the above dashboard?  It is hard to see because it is not there. One of the best CEO’s I ever had the honor of working for said, “if it is important enough to put on a chart, you better damn well have a goal indicator with it.”  I agree.

Throughout this post, I mentioned goals such as covering 10,000 steps in a day, and increasing Wednesday activity.  The charts above should include an indication of these numbers.  The charts are essentially naked without the indicators and the user viewing them loses the context of the rest of the data.

Always include a goal indicator when creating data visuals, the context is essential.

Conclusion

This is one example of using data visualization to improve personal life.  Activity is one of the primary factors in achieving and maintaining good health.  Using a fitness tracker and visualization tool like Qlik Sense can be effective.  Just understand the privacy policy and how the wearable tech company may use your private data.

The Best Hobbies

An interesting quote from Dr. Vogel on Dexter caught my mind recently.  They were referring to murder as a hobby when Dr Vogel said:

“The best hobbies take us furthest from our primary occupation.” – Dr Vogel, Dexter

If hobbies are at the opposite of our 9-5 jobs, then what does this mean?  As an Analyst with Marketing and Sales expertise, I spend my day job working with data, creating visualizations, and helping stakeholders understand the health of their business.   I bring to life the power of KPIs and creating conversation about the business through data.  Fascinating patterns and changes in trends spark the best conversations.

It is the more computer based hobbies I spend time on.  From flight simulator (FSX and X-Plane) to triathlon analysis, I do spend more time on the computer than sleeping.  Lately, I have split my time between BootStrap, a web authoring platform from Twitter, and analyzing the 2013 Santa Barbara Triathlon race results.

As a hobby, though, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer at home.  In fact, if Dr. Vogel is right, the best hobbies for me would not involve a computer at all and would focus on the physical as opposed to the virtual.   Interests of mine include art (sketching and watercolor), photography, gardening, triathlon, writing and music.   Interestingly, none of these hobbies are very frequent in my life other than triathlon training.

So, what’s the point of all of this?  Balance.  Dr. Vogel’s comment illustrates the need for moderation and balance in our lives.  Spending too much time behind the computer is not healthy.  So is spending too much time at work.   The balance involves leaving the computer behind after hours, heading outside and experiencing a wider variety of activities in life.   Hobbies are a way of expressing ourselves while relieving stress and spending time with like minded people.   Get as far away from your day job when not in the office as possible!

Anti-Cloud Based Tools for Personal Intelligence

Creating a personal intelligence platform for self tracking has never been easier.  While technology continues to push us toward the “cloud” and SaaS as a strategy of revenue generation, we cannot overlook the tried and true platforms available to keep data on your computer and away from prying eyes of Analysts.

As a data visualization and KPI development guru, I love finding those interesting trends in my own life that drive smarter, better habits.  If you are like me, you don’t feel comfortable sharing your dirty underwear with Mark Zuckerberg and you really wonder what Google is doing with all of that data they keep acquiring.   By maintaining a self database on my desktop computer which I can add to and tweak at a whim, I am able to give myself peace of mind and control over MY data.  Curious, about what KPI’s I track?  Stay tuned, that is a topic of another post.

Without further ado, here are some tools that you can use to create your own personal intelligence platform on your local computer:

  • Microsoft Excel
    • A stunningly powerful tool to use for even the novice user.  Create your own tables, link them how you want and design your own graphs and dashboards at your own pace and complexity.  Available for both Windows and Mac.
  • Numbers
    • A Mac only platform designed to compete directly Microsoft Excel which offers much the same functionality, but lacks some advanced capability compared with Excel.  The simplicity and robust visual que are 2nd to none, but as the data set grows, you may be wishing you chose Excel in the beginning.
  • Qlikview Free
    • I have been a fan of Qlikview for years.  I love the ability to create charts and dashboards from Excel spreadsheets and the gnarly level of interactivity that it provides.  The learning curve isn’t as steep as one might think and well worth a few minutes reading their documentation.   The limitation here is the limited number of shared files you can open.  Windows only.
  • MySQL / Apache / PHP / HTML5 / HighCharts
    • Ok, if you are going with this option, you are a true geek with coding ability.  This isn’t for the lighthearted as configuring MySQL, Apache, etc etc will take time.  But the advantage is you are left with an enterprise class database and a truly blank slate in regards to dashboards.  You can even create your own forms in HTML to add data.  Mac/Linux/Windows
  • Microsoft Access
    • If you need something in between Excel and MySQL to store data, Access is a great option and can interface with Excel graphs and dashboards.  With a mild learning curve, the ability to store any kind of data, and the convenience of a query builder UI, Access makes for a very robust solution. But, it lacks more advanced visualization, so be prepared to connect Excel to Access. Windows only and available with Office Professional.

As you can see, creating a Personal Intelligence platform off the cloud is possible.  You can take full control of your data and keep it private at the same time.  As data becomes more and more of a commodity and SaaS business models continue to nickel and dime everything, home based data management will be more and more appealing.  Excel is the perfect anti-cloud.

Developing KPI’s: Accountability for Remote Workers

While Marissa Mayer’s decision to remove the privilege of remote work from Yahoo!’s culture was met with shock and bewilderment initially, the truth was that Yahoo!’s remote workforce have been slacking.  Since the company is only as good as its best slacker, putting an end to an easy pay check outside the office was the right move.

Since remote work is here to stay, companies need an objective way to monitor their employees.  Just like an employee sitting in office, a remote employee needs to guarantee a certain level of access to their co-workers.  So, how do you know your remote employees are actually working?

As an employee with a few years experience working remote and working with remote bosses, I’d like to discuss some of the data points I think are pertinent to measuring remote employee connectedness and availability.  As a former Citrix Online employee, I am all too familiar with using GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting as tools to enable a positive, productive remote work experience.

Lets take a look at some data points that could give any boss reason to reign in a slacking remote worker:

  • VPN Access – Timed Logged In
    • Most remote employees access company resources through a VPN for security.  Just like Mayer discovered a lack of VPN use at Yahoo!, tracking the amount of time an employee spends on the VPN is essential to understanding their connectedness.  One could also monitor GoToMyPC usage as an alternative to VPN access.
      • While the goal would be agreed upon between employer and employee as some employees may not need to be connected 8 hours a day, the employee should be accountable for at least 90% of the VPN requirement.
  • Phone/Skype Availability – Calls Answered or Callback Time
    • This is simple, if you call the employee, whether via phone or Skype, do they answer?  If they don’t answer, how long does it take for them to call you back?
      • The goal here is to have the employee answer the phone approximately 33% of random calls, with a response time of four hours for messages left.
  • Email Use – Messages Received/Response Time
    • This may or may not be for all employees but since email is taking over for phone calls, remote employees should expect to be in contact with their manager on a routine basis.  The KPI should focus on proactive emails during the period (i.e. did I receive an email from employee) and the response time for emails sent to the employee.
      • Goal is defined as receiving X number of emails from employee with a 24-hour response time for emails sent to the employee.
  • Meeting Attendance – Meetings Attended/Attendance Time
    • Is the employee actually attending team or company meetings?  This KPI tracks their attendance and how long they are connected.  After all, an employee who sits out of team meetings is not likely to be a productive member. Services like GoToMeeting make it easy to know who is connected to a meeting.
      • Goal is to have the employee attend 90% of a meeting’s length and attend 100% of meetings.  Making sure the employee knows to attend a meeting is, of course, the manager’s responsibility.

As you can see, any contact point the employee has with the company can be used to monitor their engagement.  You might be asking yourself how to track these KPI’s and who owns it.  Well, it depends on whether the company has a KPI program or whether a manager is interested in tracking their own team.   In my opinion, whether or not an employee is productive falls squarely on the shoulders of the direct report manager and it would be up to them to create the KPI’s suitable for the situation, leveraging IT and BI departments to access data.

Once a manager begins monitoring remote worker KPI’s, they enable an objective analysis and discussion of expectations between both parties.  Putting the KPI’s onto a shared dashboard is a great way to start off a one on one meeting.

What does an actual dashboard for remote employees look like?  Stay tuned, a mockup is in the works.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on remote employee KPIs?  leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@mooney1).

Search Engine Battle Gets Interesting: Bing Rewards

There is no question about Google being the dominant player in the search engine market.  Internet search evolved from Dogpile to Alta Vista, all the way to Google with many more players in between.

Bing search result resembles Google closely.

With my 2012 goal of ridding Facebook and Google from my life (I feel both of these companies are too big and have too much data), seeking an alternate search engine is high on my to-do list.  There are few alternatives, so I have been testing Bing over the past few weeks.  Overall, Bing is a competitive alternative with a very similar look and feel of Google

What was surprising to me, was the pop-up window in the upper right of the screen. The pop-up suggests that I signup for Bing Rewards (more on this later), do 2 additional searches and enter a sweepstakes for an Xbox 360.  While I wasn’t wild about entering a sweepstakes for an Xbox, the concept of trading searches for product was intriguing. So I dug deeper.

Example products/services to redeem your ‘rewards’ on.

It seems that Microsoft is eager to get people to use Bing, so they’ve come up with something called Bing Rewards.  Very much like a rewards program for your credit card, you earn points for each internet search.  Once you collect enough points, you can redeem them for coupons and product like a $5 Amazon.com gift card or even 60 minutes of Skype credit.  The part I thought was especially thoughtful was the ability to turn your rewards into a charity donation to an organization like TeachForAmerica or DonorsChoose.org.

While I will happily use Bing as my default search engine going forward without the inspiration of collecting BingRewards, I have to hand it to Microsoft to sweeten the search engine Battle and reward customers for their data, rather than stealing it (as Google does).

If you use BingRewards and can speak to the program, please leave a comment.  I, and the rest of my readers, would love to hear about your experience.

Data Perspectives – Trial Users

One of the keys to getting customers hooked on your SaaS product is offering a free trial.  Letting someone experience your product for free for seven to thirty days is a great way to establish trust with the potential customer, let them experience the product, and also gain insight into how they will use the product (customer segmentation).

On a recent project, I was reviewing data for a client and noticed a very interesting pattern in the login histories (not really, but we will call it logins since the real data can’t be shared) for trial users.  This particular client offered a 7-day credit card trial with auto convert to a selected plan (i.e. monthly or annual).    What I expected was a nice curve from day 1, declining each day, relatively smoothly and then an increase in logins after conversion.

However, after summarizing the login data for the first ten days of service (including 3 days for the auto convert), I found a sharp decrease in logins from day 1 and day 2, as well as a blip on day 6. See the chart below.

What was even more fascinating is how the other analysts and “experts” at the company interpreted this data.  Some of the comments are below:

  • “Wow, people pay us and use less?” – referring to the drop is usage on day 8 after becoming a paying customer
  • “Those auto convert reminder emails are working, driving usage!” – referring to the increase in logins one day prior to trial end on day 6
  • “Looks like we need pay per login” – referring to the sharp decline in logins from day 1 to day 2
  • “If we can get the customer to use beyond day 4, we have them!” – not sure how this really fits in as we haven’t correlated logins with LTV, yet
  • “People are cheap” – referring to the people logging in on day 6 to use the product prior to cancellation
  • “If you are going to login to cancel your auto convert on day 6, wouldn’t you try the product one last time?” – again, referring to day 6

The chart is quite simple, a single line with 10 data points.  What isn’t simple is really what this data means.   In fact, I don’t think we can make a decision directly from this data. Rather we need to further understand what the trial users are actually doing on day 6 and how users with logins on day 7 compare to the users on day 1 (is this a bad a marketing channel).  It would also be great to dive into patterns of logins just prior to churn or trial cancellation.

What fascinates me the most, is not only the different perspectives on the data, but the deeper questions that come out of the data.  Data and customer insights are evolutionary.  The more you know, the more you ask questions and the more the decisions and knowledge evolve.