Bad Data Hygiene is a Career-Killer!


Here’s my beef with most business education, something that I discuss in my course:

Maybe you learn how to manage teams and schedules, but you sure don’t learn how to manage data.

Analysts commonly spend the majority of their time cleaning and preparing data. 

This is commonly seen as a rite of passage — your first years on the job may merit you the nickname “chart monkey” or “spreadsheet jockey.”

Now, you probably didn’t know you’d not be so much “financial analyst” or “research assistant” as you would be “applied spreadsheet technician.”

This dissonance between what we learn as students and what we do as analysts got me involved with Excel blogging in the first place. But from the beginning, I have insisted that domain expertise comes first.

Unfortunately, it is often hard to develop real domain expertise when you spend the majority of your time cleaning data. 

Maybe you can’t go to that meeting with your boss because you are stuck formatting reports. Or you’re missing that webinar because you have to fix a broken spreadsheet. 

And this is where “bad data hygiene” can become a career killer.

Basic concepts like data normalization and using Excel tables can go along way. These turn time-consuming, error-prone, manual tasks into fast, reliable, automated processes. 

Data cleaning is necessary. In the data-driven economy, somebody has to do the dirty work. But maybe the dirty work can be done cleaner? (Sorry.)

Some people think they will graduate from this rite of passage — move into management and the days of wonky spreadsheets are behind.

But as the economy becomes flatter and more data-driven, bad hygiene may not be so easy to shake. 

Control your data. Don’t let it control you. 

How to shake bad data hygiene:

1. Track your time. 

So you’re stressed and overworked. What is actually taking up most of that time? Maybe it’s a certain report that requires multiple data sources to pull off. 

Can you quantify the percent of your time spent preparing data versus actually doing something with it? This might indicate where things are doing wrong with your data. After all, you’re an analyst — not a data peddler.

2. Describe the tasks that “a monkey could do.” 

Describe step-by-step, in as much detail as you can, these tasks. 

Then, make Excel that trained monkey. Computers are accomplished rule-followers. 

Or, maybe that task isn’t as simple as you think. Maybe there are lots of exceptions, exclusions, and contortions. Are there ways to simplify the process or the model? 

3. Educate yourself.  Unfortunately, our schools are not teaching data hygiene. You must train yourself. 

Take MyExcelOnline’s course on data cleaning and Power Query. (The course is closed now, but get started with the free webinar by following the link.)

Taught by industry leaders John Michaloudis and Oz du Soleil, this course will help you eliminate hours from those nagging chores.

Did you know Excel has a built-in programming language that you can use to automate almost anything in your spreadsheet? 

It’s called VBA, and Jon Acampora will take you from zero to hero in his VBA Pro Course. Check out his free webinars to learn more. I’m working through his epic course now — hours of prime Excel content — and it is changing how I approach spreadsheets. 

These are two charismatic guys who can change your careers — really. 

End bad data hygiene!

Get your time back to do what Excel can’t — sales, strategy, and so forth.

Let me know what works for you — were you able to document your most painful tasks? How much time are you really spending cleaning data? 


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