6 easy ways to reduce workload – Stroke your data monkey

As a data manager in a secondary school, no doubt every bit as frenetic and febrile as yours, everyday I see ways to cut workload – but by the time it comes across my desk it’s often too late to do anything about it.

More and more school time seems to be taken up moving information around, – you have someone in your organisation with a talent for logic and efficiency who could, if fed enough bananas, make everyone’s life a lot easier.

Here are my 8 tips for cutting down on wasted time

  1. When it comes to managing data let your data manager manage the data
    1. Try not to make decisions about handling information at Mach 9
    2. In the real world many important tasks are done at the last minute despite loads warning they were coming
      1. let data monkeys know about them as soon as they appear on the horizon
      2. include data monkeys in planning meetings where appropriate
      3. … or at least tell them something’s coming if it’s likely that they will have to deal with it
    3. Data monkeys, as a species, like to think about how to go about things (processes) – because this is the only way they can handle as much information as they have to – exploit this by tapping into their talent for logic and finding the least arduous ways of doing things
      1. Ask your data monkey to suggest some ways information might be handled, before launching into the stream of work – There is always an easier way to do things
    4. A lot of processes within a school seem be designed on the hoof/ in haste – however, staff don’t care how a job gets done just that it gets done right and quickly
      1. methods made in haste often become set in stone with no chance of changing how it is done
      2. Consider changing how information is handled during the process
      3. Ask your data monkey how well a flow of information is going, if not good encourage them to suggest a better way of doing it
  2. Encourage and promote basic staff excel skills
    1. Forget formulas – spreadsheets are really just about organising information – formulas are for show-offs
    2. Make sure most managers and key administrative staff can:
      1. Refer to master sheets to get facts right
      2. Filter out unwanted values out of a spreadsheet
      3. Arrange columns and rows to make sheets that are easy to read
      4. Ban conditional formatting in your school – it is visually bewildering
    3. Ask non data monkey staff with an aptitude for spreadsheets to make sheets for others (but get them to secretly work with the data monkey to do it)
    4. Give these sheets memorable names
    5. Develop them over time
    6. Make it plane it’s a valuable management skill to be able to use excel to organise and communicate information effectively
  3. If errors keep happening question the process
    1. Data monkeys hate errors more than almost everyone because it makes them feel anxious in every piece of work they do
    2. They guard against errors by creating logical processes
    3. Consequently, if errors keep occuring it’s more likely to be a problem with communication/ processes within the school than with the data monkey  
  4. Move to a cloud based MIS immediately
    1. Automate everything that can be automated
      1. Modern cloud based MIS can make many school processes automatic for example:
        1. Tell pastoral staff who’s been late for school
        2. Tell students their classroom has changed
        3. Chase teachers for not completing their register on time
        4. Alert staff to Behaviour incidents
        5. Email, text, write letters to parents for lateness, mobile phones, detentions, excellent behaviour.
        6. Alert teachers to why a student they might be distressed today
        7. Chase teachers to complete assessments on time
        8. …over time MIS will be able to do much more!
  5. Get your datamonkey to make spreadsheets for key streams of work
    1. Staff waste a huge amount of their valuable time fumbling around with spreadsheets that generally confuse themselves and everyone else
    2. Commonly only a handful of staff have the aptitude to make spreadsheets that don’t create more work for everyone
    3. Your data monkey can make spreadsheets in minutes that are easy to use, reduce mistakes and can be developed to do all kinds of helpful stuff  – use them – for example
      1. Your data monkey should makes sheets to convert termly assessment Uniform Mark Scales into grades – don’t make you teachers do this
      2. your data monkey should work closely with Heads of Department to make trackers of course requirements, coursework and assessments
      3. You should have a single tracker format for all departments
  6. Tidy your shared drive
    1. I would love to know the sum total of time staff waste trying to find things in the staff shared area
    2. Its no good just telling staff something is somewhere in the staff drive if when they look it is a jumble sale in there
    3. Restrict the number of folders to a strict taxonomy, defined and policed by SMT, for example staff shared should only have this few folders
      1. Administration
      2. Pastoral
      3. Curriculum
      4. Assessment
      5. Department Folders
      6. Staff Folders
    4. Archive properly so staff can find previous years stuff
    5. Enforce filing discipline – Do not let staff dump photos of the history trip and videos of play rehearsals in the main folder (You wouldn’t let teachers dump their old paperwork in the school reception, because it would get in everyone’s way!)

Overall, I suggest encouraging your data monkey to get more involved wherever information flows around your school, you never know they might be able to grease many of the wheels.

A lot of work is the small stuff we have to do over and over each day, if you can shave seconds of tasks that are done thousands of times by everyone you will end up saving teachers a lot of time. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves!

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