Database Efficiency: Be Your Own Architect

Today’s guest blog post is written by Mary Alice Dutkanicz, Data Migration Manager, PatronManager. 

I was recently introduced to the term “Choice Architecture” through a segment on NPR’s TED Radio Hour. You may already be familiar with the concept: how, by human nature, we’re most often drawn to make decisions based on the way that our options are presented to us.

Most books and articles you’ll find on the topic focus on the more nuanced methods of manipulating consumer purchasing decisions, through framing options in a positive or negative light (“90% lean” vs. “10% fat”) or offering decoy comparisons to make one option seem more appealing than another. Step into any grocery store across the country, and you’ll see a large-scale example of how choice architecture affects consumer habits, from product placement to a bright neon “SALE!” sticker.

You could say that the core of this whole deal is really just catering to (or taking advantage of) lazy decision-making, but a responsible application of choice architecture can actually be used to boost productivity in your own life and work in a practical way. Have you ever had one of those days where you’re so mentally exhausted, you can’t decide what to make for dinner? After a long day of critical thinking, you might be suffering from decision fatigue. Think about the number of decisions you’ve made so far today; each choice has required a certain degree of cognitive energy. Why not conserve some of that energy by implementing a bit of your own choice architecture to streamline the smaller, inconsequential decisions of your day?

Most of the technology tools you use already have built-in presets and shortcuts to nudge you in the right direction. When I log into my web browser each morning, I know that the first three items I need to access are my email, my calendar, and my Salesforce® database. Rather than wasting any mental energy opening tabs and typing web addresses, I’ve set up my browser to automatically open to those three pages upon startup, which sets my focus for the day ahead. This might seem like a pretty insignificant example, but those tiny, incremental decisions can add up quickly.

The next time you log into your database, take inventory of each button-click for the first fifteen minutes of your day. Are you clicking through four pages to check the same development campaign report each morning? Do you find yourself endlessly scrolling for important patron information that’s been buried beneath little-used fields on the patron’s contact record? Better yet, when you’re filling out information for a new patron at the box office window, are you able to seamlessly use the tab key from one field to the next, or do you find yourself keying through redundant or irrelevant fields that came pre-programmed with the system?

Odds are high that if you’re facing these inefficiencies throughout your day, so are others in your organization. Perhaps, instead of clicking through to that report every morning, you could subscribe to the report and have a copy waiting in your inbox or on a visually-pleasing dashboard on your homepage. A quick adjustment to a page layout could potentially save hours of scrolling and searching for patron information. And by all means, don’t let unused fields take up valuable real estate in your database!

This idea can (and should!) be taken a step further to positively influence others in your organization to help maintain a healthy database. Perhaps you have a new marketing initiative to build your email list, and in order to make that happen, you need to make sure that any staff member that adds or updates patron information into the system is always collecting the patron’s email address and confirming their interests for email campaigns. If the email interest field is buried out of sight at the bottom of the page, it’s likely that your initiative will fall off the rails; however, if you were to make a quick adjustment to the page layout to put those fields front and center, there will be a much higher probability of your colleagues following through to help your initiative.

Start by evaluating your daily activities, exploring your database’s help resources and engaging with other community users in their approach to efficient use of your system. By taking the time to identify these small “button-click” inefficiencies, you can begin to zero in on simple, lasting areas for improvement in the choice architecture of your own database.


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