Reporting and data analytics are some of your best tools for understanding and improving your business, from dissecting the profitability of your operations to analyzing the effectiveness of your marketing campaign. The problem is, when you start reporting regularly, all those analyses can eat up hours of your time.

Fortunately, with the right strategies, you can streamline the reporting process, completing your work in fewer hours without sacrificing the integrity of your analysis.

Streamlining reporting process

Use the Right Tools

Everything starts with using the right tools. As datapine explains regarding online dashboards, “Today more than ever, huge amounts of data are generated, increasing most organizations’ need for a smart software that can make sense of this vast amount of numbers and figures, and transform the data into strategic insights that will support the decision-making process.”

Your software will define the process for gathering, assembling, and finalizing a report for your data. It needs to be comprehensive, accurate, and reliable, to preserve the integrity of your reports, but also learnable and approachable. That way, your employees won’t spend needless hours trying to learn something difficult, and you can get on with the rest of your day.

Work From a Template

There’s no need to generate a new report from scratch every time you want to learn something about one of your business’s departments. Instead, learn to rely on replicable templates. Depending on the solution you use, that may mean relying on a preexisting template you can call upon and replicate infinitely, or building your own templates to be used in various conditions. Over the course of a few months, this could save you and your employees hours of work.

Get the Timing Right

Pay attention to how you’re timing your reports, too. It’s tempting to report as often as possible, possibly even moving to real-time reporting, in an effort to note changes as they occur, or react faster to new situations. But the reality is, reporting too frequently can waste time; not only does it demand more attention and more man-hours, it could mislead you with data that doesn’t accurately capture the big picture.

Much depends on the purpose of the report. For example, social media marketing reporting could feasibly unfold in weekly, monthly, quarterly, or campaign-long varieties, according to Buffer. Try to find the intersection between reporting frequently enough to stay relevant and infrequently enough to get a high-level overview.

Send Out Reports Automatically

If you can, send your reports out automatically. This will spare you the need to schedule a specific day to run reports, eliminate the possibility of human forgetfulness, and give you added convenience with the fully-generated report waiting for you in your inbox.

For example, Google Analytics allows you to share reports you’ve created with other people on a recurring basis; all you have to do is create the report the first time, set a time interval and file format, and Google will take care of the rest. This is also useful as a conversation starter if you send the report to multiple people simultaneously, such as one of your teams or clients.

Data analysis

Rely on a Handful of KPIs

Our abundance of data tempts us to look at as many variables as possible. After all, the more information you have, the more informed a decision you can make, right? Actually, it may be better to restrict the number of variables and KPIs you examine; when your report is saturated with numbers, it becomes far more confusing and time-consuming to wade through, and you might end up with a faulty analysis of what those numbers mean. It’s much better to narrow your focus to the handful of KPIs that matter most.

Use Visuals in Meetings

As much as possible, keep your reports visually engaging—especially if you’re using them in the context of a meeting. People respond to and understand visual depictions of data far more than they understand pure numbers, which means you’ll get through the report faster and (generally) more accurately. There are some pitfalls to over-relying on visuals as a way to understand your data, but the time savings you’ll get are worth the compromise here.

Keep Things Consistent

If you’re reporting on a frequent basis, try to keep your reporting system and analysis as consistent as possible. That way, you won’t need to spend time contextualizing new metrics in your report, and you’ll be able to pinpoint key changes that require action or correction at a glance. It will also keep you from breaking the reporting habit, so you always have data to act on.

As your business grows and develops, you’ll probably find that some reports simply aren’t as effective or valuable as you thought they were, and you’re missing insights that can only be covered by others. As much as consistency is important in maximizing your efficiency, you also need to find room for flexibility and experimentation. Try using different processes for generating your reports or presenting them in different ways, until you come across a combination that works best for everyone involved.