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You’ve spent the last hour staring down a mountain of data so overwhelming you don’t even know where to start.

This sound familiar?

Sounds like a classic case of data overload and if you don’t watch out it’ll turn you to stone (not literally…well maybe literally) and prevent you from gaining the benefit the data otherwise offered.

I talked to a few experts and this is the advice they gave me:

#1 Focus on Simple Questions

The first signal you’re suffering from data overload is you become obsessed with the numbers but you are unable to manifest that into an action.

In my younger and more vulnerable years I fancied myself a hobbyist stock trader. Every 2 minutes I’d reload my realtime stock feed and carefully analyze my next move, plotting toward a course of pure stock trading nirvana. Well, it turned out my next move was always the same: “in 2 minutes look again and see if I’m closer to nirvana.”

I didn’t understand that data was supposed to help me answer questions, not by itself provide understanding.

Focus on what questions you want answered, not the data you have available.

#2 Divide and Conquer

A second tip I got was to divide your data when you’re overwhelmed.

Your company might have 50 employees, all generating mountains of data daily. Try looking at just 5 employees to really get an understanding of what works and doesn’t work. Maybe that’s still too much data, so just look at half the activities they do as part of their work process. Keep dividing until you’re comfortable and the data starts answering your questions. Then you can start adding information back.

Look closer by narrowing your view.

#3 There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills!

Trust your instincts that there is value to be found through analysis, and don’t give up.

If you are just starting with data analysis the benefit to your business will be huge. We see on average a 50 – 150% gain in meaningful activity when our customers start analyzing and tuning their business. In this day and age every business should use data and analysis to support their decisions and today you don’t need to have a full-time data analysis team like some Fortune 500 company to see real results.

Ask the right questions, use the right tools, and watch your business grow.

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Bryan Stevenson
Bryan is a founder and CTO of InsightSquared. He has over a decade of leading Python and Django development teams. His background includes Akamai, the startup Groovr, and SaaS development shop 80concepts.
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