Time is one of our most important assets, with data running a close second place. Ironically in most companies, there is an enormous amount of time wasted searching for data.
One of the best ways to use technology as a time-saving tool is to utilize the software’s customization features to ensure you retrieve important data easily and quickly.
But what kind of data?
The information in your databases including your accounting, CRM, contact manager, email client, product lists, manufacturing and production schedules, calendars, and all the lists sitting in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (we all have them).
It is easy to enter the data into these programs, but when it is time to review, compare, and analyze the information we happily store, the clock starts ticking.
Here are three basic customization features that can save you a lot of time:
Kick the Can
Most programs include “canned” reports typically designed with basic requirements, such as a profit and loss statement in your accounting, or all of this week’s appointments in your calendar. Consider these reports the starting point. To get to the “right” information you need to customize not only the look of the reports, but also what information is on them and how it is all sorted.
For example, instead of the standard profit and loss statement, you want to see the profits by sales type, either different products or services. In this case you need the revenue and cost of sales details and don’t need any general business expenses. It should take about five minutes to create and save that report in most accounting software programs, and then only seconds to retrieve it every time you need it.
Filtered is Better
Part of creating a useful report is creating a filter. In our example we filtered by account (revenue and cost-of-sales). Filters are also very useful to quickly find information when you only need to view it, like in a CRM, contact manager, calendar program, or your favorite spreadsheet.
The truth is, you use filters every day. A simple example is when you view your calendar for just today – “today” is your filter. There are many other filters that can help you sort through the sea of data to be able to see valuable information.
In a CRM system, for example, you can filter by salesperson, various dates associated to opportunities and category or “type” fields. These filters can present interesting pictures of sales and trends, especially when coupled with date range filters.
Gauge Your Business
When you just need an overview of your data nothing beats a dashboard. Especially in today’s multitasking, information overload world, a quick glance may be all you need for right now. The funny thing is most people change the default dashboard to startup the software in a task screen so we can dig right into entering data instead of taking a few seconds to get a bird’s eye view.
Outlook Today is a great dashboard that includes your calendar, tasks, and how many messages are waiting to be read. You get all the important information quickly and don’t have to launch each section individually to see what’s going on in your day.
Accounting software dashboards offer snapshots of either the company as a whole, or individual modules, based on your security access level. By viewing the state of your accounts receivable on the screen you can quickly identify past due customers and quickly drill down to a phone number to make that collections call!
One popular dashboard that gets all the glory (and media coverage) is Business Intelligence (BI). The premise of BI is using dashboards. The major time-saving aspect of a BI dashboard is that it gathers information from multiple sources. This allows for an amazing presentation of your business in ways that are otherwise too time-consuming to achieve.
BI dashboards are the same as you going from one software program to another, running reports, exporting them to Excel, and trying to create a comprehensive format (which, by the way, takes a LOT of time).
As Easy As 1-2-3
Accurate data is imperative to making good business decisions, so the last thing you want to do is waste time trying to find it. Spending your time wisely now by building reports, using filters, and creating dashboards will give you more time to spend on other important things later.
Ellen DePasquale, Constant Contact Regional Development Director (NY Metro – Long Island, Queens, Bronx, Westchester, Southern Connecticut) has over 20 years of experience as a software expert and marketing advisor to small businesses, nonprofits, and associations in the New York Metro area. She is also the author of It’s About Time: Time Management Tips From The Software Revitalist™. Follow her on Twitter (twitter.com/Ellen_NY_CTCT) or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.