Paralysed by analytics? Use a spreadsheet

August 2018

Open up a week-old Google Analytics installation and you'll see a Minority Report-esque dashboard with data up the wazoo. As information design, you can't fault it. The good people on the GA team really are doing a stellar job.

Analytics tools like this are impressive. But with the seemingly infinite possibilities they offer, comes an infinite potential to get lost. They present a classic Paradox of Choice, a much-quoted term coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz. As Schwartz observed:

Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.

So if complex analytics tools can paralyse us, what to do?

I've come to think the best tool for tracking usage data is the humble spreadsheet. I find something I want to track - signup to paid customer conversions, say - then manually add numbers to my spreadsheet each week. Maybe I'll even add a chart if I'm feeling saucy.

I find tracking events this way leads to less decision paralysis and more action.

I think this works for two reasons. First, putting data into a spreadsheet is a pain. This pain makes for a great filter. You'll quickly find out what you give a shit about when you're copying and pasting fifty event counts every week.

Second, manually putting together a report requires engagement with the information on a regular basis. And it's by engaging with it that it becomes useful.

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