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Crunching the Numbers

Especially since the 7 Measures book, the idea of being a data-driven association has gotten a lot of play. No doubt, there's been a growing fascination with numbers culturally (the extreme popularity of the TV show Numb3rs being a prime example). The new book, Microtrends (itself a book all about seeking insights from numbers) has as one of its micro trends the growth of "Number Junkies".

The Freakonomics endorsed Super Crunchers looks to be a fascinating read and it's next on my to-read list. Even the Freakonomics blog is still bustling with activity.

As a personal/practical example, a few years back at a board retreat, I was asked how many hours I worked per week and what my breakdown of tasks/areas were during that time. Sadly, I had no clue - I could only proffer a bunch of guesses (which, BTW, turned out to be way, way, off). This wasn't because they were trying nit pick at my work habits or justify my pay, or whatever. They just were really curious to know how my time was spent, and how that lined up against our organizational priorities (and staffing needs in other areas). Fair enough. (Well that, and also my estimates were being used by accounting to allocate/divvy my salary across different program areas.)

So, for the past few years, I've been using "stop watch" style time tracker called TimePanic (though, there are many other similar style apps). For 2006, my time broke down like this (where 1 PD = a standard 8 hour work day, and average time worked per week was about 50 hours):

Activity Duration Percent
Conferences (other) 53 PD, 5 h, 28 min 18.09%
Email (random) 45 PD, 7 h, 3 min 15.46%
Admin 31 PD, 7 h, 2 min 10.74%
Trip/Travel 25 PD, 7 h, 7 min 8.72%
Board Relations 24 PD, 2 h, 34 min 8.19%
Surfing/News/Forums/etc 17 PD, 3 h, 18 min 5.87%
Annual Conference 16 PD, 3 h, 5 min 5.52%
Montreal Chapter 14 PD, 2 h, 40 min 4.83%
SIG Support 11 PD, 3 h, 40 min 3.86%
Awards 7 PD, 6 h, 11 min 2.62%
Consultation 7 PD, 3 h, 0 min 2.48%
Advocacy Work 6 PD, 2 h, 47 min 2.14%
Chapter Support 6 PD, 1 h, 34 min 2.09%
PR/Interview 6 PD, 0 h, 38 min 2.05%
Web Dev 5 PD, 6 h, 50 min 1.97%
Newsletter 5 PD, 2 h, 32 min 1.79%
Professional Development 4 PD, 2 h, 57 min 1.47%
Staff Meeting 3 PD, 7 h, 45 min 1.34%
Sales 1 PD, 5 h, 58 min 0.59%
"Member Care" 4 h, 8 min 0.17%

So, aside from now being able to give my board accurate data (and to keep accounting accurate as well), I am able to crunch these numbers in many different ways. From ensuring I don't overwork in a given week/month (!), to making sure I don't spend too much time surfing news sites on the web, to analyzing the impact of one activity from month to month, or year to year, etc. Doing more where needed. Less where not needed, and so on.

Anyway, I realize that when we talk about being data-driven, it is mostly in reference to finances, member numbers, product sales, etc. And sure, that's all important. But, don't ignore other ways to take advantage of crunching the numbers.

(Though, as an aside, I wonder how many other executive directors track their time precisely - or would even be willing to do it...)



Jason, this is phenomenal information, thanks for sharing!

I have a couple of questions: all the travel time -- were you doing other things during that time, or is that more strictly getting to airport, security lines, boarding times, finding new flights after cancellations, etc.?

Also, I see the surfing/news/forums time, but not anything else that would be "think" time -- I realize some or a lot of nonwork time is always "think" time, but I was wondering your take on this -- should you do more "think" time that you consider work?

Thanks Scott... To answer your questions:

- Travel Time: That's mostly strict time in transit. Sure, I may peek at emails, or read a report (though, admittedly, I'm mostly playing my Nintendo DS in flights or reading books). Though, if I have a long connection and I go do 2 hours of email/etc in the lounge, I'd log that as email and not part of the transit time. So ya, there's a bit of fuzziness on this one.

- Think Time: Sadly, I don't schedule any dedicated time to "think". The surfing time is mainly keep track of industry news and such. I guess much of that "think" time happens in the shower, while driving, etc. But, I have considered the idea of allocating a specific chunk - say 1-hour after lunch every Friday - but just haven't gotten around to it yet...

Also, related to the first question, it's important to pick categories/activities that are relevant - and are not too large of a bucket (eg, my "admin" category is probably too generic and needs further break down to be meaningful). But, most tools should allow for such changes over time...

As usual was going to comment but it turned into a post (http://diaryofareluctantblogger.blogspot.com/)... but I do want to check out the software you used, maybe that will help me!

Ooh, sounds like a nightmare Maddie.

Indeed, I've actually forced myself to multi-task less and to bunch up similar activities. And, this has generally helped lessen the "friction cost" of constantly switching between activities...

Anyway, TimePanic is a nifty little app that's "stop watch" functionality seems to work well for me. You just need to remember to click the start/stop button each time you switch tasks ;)

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