How to have a data-driven conversation with your boss about priorities, time management & productivity

Just as pretty much every business uses data to make big decisions, you can use RescueTime’s reports and personal analytics to help change your workload, priorities, schedule, and even workplace culture. 

Millions of people use RescueTime to understand where their time goes and change the way they work. But it’s not always easy to make these changes when you work with other people.

Every business has entrenched processes, workflows, and cultures that are hard to change. But data gives you the hard evidence you need to make real change happen.

In this post, we’re going to cover exactly how to have a data-driven conversation with your boss or manager (and what data to use!) to help change your schedule, priorities, workload, culture, and even work-life balance.

In this post: 

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The pitfalls of personal data: Why most managers won’t care about your data (unless you do this)

Data is a powerful storytelling tool. It’s one thing to tell your boss that your daily schedule is causing you to be less productive than you could be. It’s a whole other thing to use data to show exactly what’s happening. 

Unfortunately, few of us really know how to tell those data stories. Instead, we throw out numbers and hope that others see why they’re important. But that rarely works.

Let’s say you’re going in for your annual checkup with your doctor. You’ve spent the last few months tracking your sleep, exercise, mood, and all sorts of other data that influence your health and could be super helpful to them.

But when you present them with your stack of findings, all you get is a “Neat. Now, moving on…”

The same thing happens in the workplace. Without context and a clear story around your data, your manager won’t know where to start. 

How to have a productive data-driven conversation with your boss or manager

Like the doctor in the above example, your boss or manager has their set way of doing things and probably aren’t too interested in information that tells them otherwise. 

Data can disrupt even the most deep-rooted beliefs. But only when presented in the right way.

If you’re looking to have a data-driven conversation with your boss, manager, or even teammates, here are some best practices to follow.

1. Keep it high-level

Not everyone has the same level of data literacy. Even if your manager tackles spreadsheets and business metrics like a linebacker that doesn’t mean they’ll be equally adept at understanding personal productivity data. 

Start with the high-level stuff that is easy to explain (like your most productive hours, communication time, etc…). As a rule of thumb, if you can’t explain it without a 20-minute backstory, skip it. 

2. Stick to one or two metrics (i.e. don’t hit them in the face with a data firehouse)

Even if you’re keeping it high-level, it’s easy to overload people with data. Instead, stick to just one or two data points per conversation. 

When it comes down to it, any conversation about productivity should ultimately be about trying to reduce complexity and not introducing more work.

3. Get detailed enough to be useful, but no more

Be careful to strike the right balance when talking to others about your data, especially a manager. If you’re not granular enough, the data may lack sufficient meaning. On the other hand, if you go too deep, it’s noisy and impossible to understand why it matters. 

Also, you might actually be setting yourself up for an awkward conversation.

Often when we’re presented with an overwhelming list of stats, we’ll scan for the first thing we understand. Unfortunately, that might be the 2% of your day spent on Twitter (even though the 30% spent on email is a much more meaningful and actionable data point!)

4. Show real results

What this all comes back to is telling a story with your data. And as movies have taught us, every great story needs a beginning, middle, and end. 

The single best way to impress someone with your personal data is to take a data point they’re already familiar with and show how you tracked a measurable improvement. 

Charts and graphs are nice and all, but what really gets someone’s attention is if you can say: “Hey boss, my billable hours went up 15% last month after I cut back my time spent on email in the mornings. Here’s the data to prove it.”

The RescueTime data you should use in a data-driven conversation with your boss

The most important part of having a data-driven conversation with your boss is picking the right stats to talk about. Every data point tells a story and the one you choose will be dependent on what you’re trying to change. 

Here are a few suggestions and guides to help you get started. 

Setting up RescueTime to get the best data: Because we’re looking for working trends, it’s a good idea to switch to your Weekly or Monthly view and also view “Work Hours” only.

Use the date picker or quickly switch to your current Weekly or Monthly view.
You’ll see this tab underneath most reports. Use it to switch between your work hours and all time.

Changing your schedule: The Productivity by Time of Day report

One of the best things you can do to improve your workday is to work at the right times

Your energy levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day. And we’ve written time and time again about the importance of matching your work schedule to your “productivity cycle”. (In fact, some studies show that a focused, high-energy hour of work is up to 500% more productive than one where you’re naturally lower energy or more likely to get distracted). 

Your RescueTime Productivity by Time of Day Report can show you exactly when your most productive hours are each day and when you’re most likely to be deeply focused on productive work. 

Where to find this report: Reports > Productivity > Very Productive Time > Time of Day. 

What you can use this data for:

  • Changing your start/stop time to reflect your peak productive hours
  • Asking to move recurring meetings that interfere with these hours
  • Shortening your workday to reflect your best hours
  • Setting specific times when you won’t be available on email/chat/calls (i.e. setting communication expectations to protect your peak hours)

Updating your priorities: The Category and Applications & Websites reports

Productivity is all about working on the right things. The more clear you are on your priorities, the easier it is to stay focused and motivated and feel accomplished at the end of the day. 

But how we want to spend our days often doesn’t line up with how we actually spend it.

Your RescueTime category and sub-category report will show you the tools and even projects you’ve spent the most time on so you can see if it lines up with your priorities. 

Where to find this report: Reports > Categories > Sub-Categories > Pick your top categories

What you can use this data for:

  • Confirming your priorities. Ask your manager what they think your highest priority work is. Does this match up to how you’re able to spend your time each day? (To go deeper, click on the specific app or tool in this category and look at the projects you worked on).
  • Look at your top category as a percent of your total time. Are you able to spend enough of your day on your most important work? 
  • Check out the “trending” report to see how your time spent on your highest priority work has changed.
  • You can also use the All Activities Trend report to see how your time spent on all your top activities compares. Reports > Applications & Websites > Trending  

Fixing your communication culture: The Communication report

Teams and companies often don’t realize just how much of their day is spent communicating.  

Email, chat, and communication is key to a productive workplace. But too much of them can get in the way of doing meaningful work

RescueTime can show your boss exactly how much of your day is taken up by communication. This can often be the catalyst for changing your team’s culture.

Where to find this report: Reports > Categories > Communication & Scheduling.

What you can use this data for: 

  • Changing your policies around communication. How much time do you spend each week on communication tools? What percentage of your total time is spent on communication? 
    • Look at the “Time of Day” report to see when you’re using these tools. Are you communicating all day and don’t have time to focus? 
  • Consolidating your channels to just the most important ones. 
  • Switching to a culture of asynchronous communication to help keep you focused during the day. This means aiming for more time on email vs. chat. 

Protecting you from burnout: The Work Hours view

No boss purposefully tries to burn out their team (unless they’re truly evil!) Yet burnout is the result of too much communication, no clear priorities, and a schedule that doesn’t match your energy levels.

While these other reports help you have a data-driven conversation about the best way to work, you can also use RescueTime data to help fix your work-life balance.

To do this, we’re going to switch from looking just at your working hours to all your time. 

You can customize your work hours in RescueTime under Settings > Advanced Features. By default, they’re set to 8am–6pm, Monday to Friday. 

Where to find this report: Go to your main dashboard or any report and switch to the “All Time” view. 

On the dashboard: Scroll down and select “work hours” to see your total time and breakdown of activities outside of work hours. How much time are you spending on work tasks outside of work time? 

On the activities report: Select a work tool and view By Day to see what work you’re doing on weekends. Use the Time of Day report to see if you’re using this tool in the evenings or late at night as well. 

What you can use this data for: 

  • Talking about your workload. Do you feel obligated to work late/on weekends just to keep up? This could put you at serious risk of burnout if left alone. 
  • Building a better work-life balance for you and your team. Overwork like this is never the fault of a single person. What policies or cultural norms cause you to overwork?

If you don’t feel comfortable talking about data with your manager, start with the rest of your team

It can be scary to bring up numbers and stats with your boss. Especially about issues that are getting in the way of your productivity.

But improving your productivity, time management, and focus is a process. And while it can help to have your boss on board, it might also make sense to take a more grassroots approach.

All of the reports above tell a story about how you work. But they also hint at workplace trends, cultural norms, and policies your entire team is facing. 

If you’re excited about your data and how it’s helped change your working style, share it directly with your co-workers. If what’s working for you will really also help others be successful, then it should be easy to get others excited about it. And if others on your team are finding value in it, your manager almost certainly won’t stand in the way.

How do you use RescueTime data to change the way you work? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!

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Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay is a writer, content marketer, and editor of the RescueTime blog.

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