9 ways to improve your analytical skills

Being able to not only communicate information but digest it is the key to becoming a leader and expert in your field. This sharp skillset makes you an essential part of any team—especially since you can make recommendations on how to improve day-to-day functions, the financial bottom line and the overall progression of the company. “Analytical skills have a big impact on growing your career professionally, as well as leading a business,” explains certified business coach and author Ivy Slater. “People with good analytical skills are great leaders and often move up to executive status quicker. And if you own a business, these skills allow you to troubleshoot, navigate obstacles and come out ahead.”

If putting on your analytical hat is a difficult feat, consider these tips from career experts and psychologists that supercharge your brainpower:

Play games.

Growing up, games were a daily part of our schedule. Whether it was make-believe with our best pals or a competitive board game with our family, childhood is often full of creativity and imagination. But as we get older, time to sit around playing cards or coming up with dreamlands is limited. However, there are some games—like Scrabble, crosswords, sudoku and so on—that do wonders for our analytical skills. As co-host of Lucky Chow and executive director of Lucky Rice, William Li explains, these habits are not only entertaining but they stimulate our brain to flex its critical-thinking muscles. This allows us to look at the whole picture while developing a strategy and plan-of-attack at the same time. 

Dedicate yourself to a lifelong journey of learning.

After years of studying and all-nighters—not to mention mountains of student loans—receiving your diploma feels like the end of a long road. And while it definitely is an accomplishment, Slater says it’s not the end of your learning journey. In fact, our careers are merely the start of another chapter where our knowledge will expand even further, and be applied in real-time. “To improve your analytical thinking you want your brain to continually be challenged,” she continues. “Do not settle for what you know, look for ways to learn. Always think of being more interested in learning more, rather than how interesting you are to others.”

Find a data mentor.

Even if you’re an executive or perhaps even a c-level leader—there are always benefits to having a mentor. Especially if you’re struggling with comprehension and analytical skills, career expert and CEO of the switch Nancy A. Shenker says a data rockstar can take you to the next level. The first step, of course, is admitting that you have gaps in your knowledge and commit yourself to overcome them. For those who are already near the top of their game, Shenker says it can be worthwhile to barter for coaching if you have a potential genius they need assistance with as well. “Never be afraid to ask questions—including the same question multiple times. The more conversational the training/discussion is, the more likely you are to learn quickly,” she adds.

Take classes.

When looking ahead to your career, what do you envision? Are you at the helm of your current company? Perhaps enjoying the success of starting your own brand? Maybe you have the job of your current boss. Whatever the case, analytical skills will help you to get where you’re going. That’s why Kristina Libby, the executive vice president of Future Science and Research for Hyper Giant suggests signing up for a data science class. Available via General Assembly and other like programs, a dedicated course can help you build and work with a data set, as well as give you access to professors with answers. “It’s a useful way to really understand data, how it works and what you can do with it,” she shares.

Ask more questions.

Many professionals are hesitant to ask questions when they don’t fully understand the function of their job, a slide in a meeting or what’s expected out of them. This is a missed opportunity, since asking questions is an impactful way to soak up your analytical superpowers. “By asking questions, you keep being exposed to new knowledge and information which helps keep the mind sharp,” explains Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist. “Ask questions both on and off-the-job to see if new information can make you rethink things you used to believe were one way and which might even refute or invalidate your beliefs.”

Don’t shy away from a debate.

Sometimes, it can be uncomfortable to be in a room with someone who doesn’t share your same opinion. This is compounded when the person is passionate and vocal about their beliefs. While many look at this encounter as something to avoid, Slater encourages professionals to lean into the discussion. How come? Brainstorms and debates within office walls are effective ways to improve your analytical skills because they push you to see and consider different perspectives. “Challenge your thought process by running various case scenarios,” she shares. “ As you explore different options and run strategy, you are engaging your brain in a creative and effective way, because you are working on the business and yourself at the same time.”

Observe more than you speak.

When you have too many things to check off your to-do list and not enough hours in your workday (or let’s be real: after 6 pm has come and gone)—it’s easy to get wrapped up in deliverables. This can cause you to delegate, shout out orders and manage your employees without a second thought. However, instead of being tunnel-visioned and immersed in your work responsibilities, Dr. Thomas suggests making a conscious effort to notice the different ways your colleagues deal with their jobs. “By being more cognizant and aware of how your peers are handling things at work, this can give you fresh, different perspectives and possibly teach you new ways to handle things at work, also,” she explains.

Read everything you can.

As Libby puts it, being analytical simply means being a critical thinker. Rather than merely looking at something for what it is, you are able to understand why it’s that way, how it got there, and where it can be improved in the future. This requires the ability to absorb information, rather than glancing over the bullet points and moving on. It may seem far too simple but Libby says an easy way to become more analytical is to read. And not business books necessarily—but anything and everything that interests you. Fiction, non-fiction, journals, books—you name it. It all benefits your brainpower.

Journal daily.

To write, you must understand what you’re scribbling. Or, if you’re trying to work something out, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) can be an effective way to process. That’s why Dr. Thomas suggests adopting a daily journaling habit to improve your analytical skills. Your pages should be full of how your workday was in a matter-of-fact, non-emotional way to observe and catch where you could have done things better or done more to understand the information or situation in front of you. “This practice can help you objectively see how your work performance each day was so you can recognize and build on the productive things you did and improve upon those things that weren’t correct or meeting the standard expected of the job,” she adds.