How to get good at Tableau

Getting good at Tableau should not be your goal. In fact, let’s forget about goals altogether. We are going to construct a system that works.

While we're at it let's forget about motivation too. Our interest in doing the thing ebbs and flows. I wouldn’t want you to put the fate of acquiring Tableau skills on your temperamental interest level.

Show up consistently and give the task whatever you have at the moment.

If you want to “get in shape,” then start by going to the gym. Simply show up. Take a walk around the track while you’re there. Jump the rope a couple of times for kicks. Maybe pick up a weight if that all you’ve got that day. Hey, at least you came.


The biggest problem with goal setting is that when we miss our deadlines, which will happen, we’re immediately disenchanted by the pursuit. We have fully failed. However, when we set a schedule for ourselves that fits into our lifestyle, we have the mindset of this being a journey and we gain the flexibility to get back on schedule when reality strikes.

Your ability in the moment will pick up with practice. Every once in awhile the stars will align, and amazingness will manifest in your work, but most often it’ll just be kinda cool 😎

To make this as easy to pick up as possible we’ll refer to a well-known habit formation cycle.

  1. Cue Set a calendar reminder for MakeoverMonday every Sunday
  2. Routine Read their article. Connect to the data. Ask 1 questions. Create 1 viz.
  3. Reward This is personal. Find some special way to appreciate yourself.

Three steps to crafting a practice that sticks

1. How to choose your reminder

The main inspiration for the writing come from James Clear. In How to Build a New Habit, James suggests we choose a reminder from two lists.

The first list is of those things you do without fail.

  • Maybe you shave or put on makeup
  • Go to the closet to grab your clothes for the day
  • Clean your dishes after dinner
  • Unload your backpack or briefcase at the office
  • Look both ways before crossing the street (vital when traveling to countries where people drive on a different side of the road)

The next list will be those things that are done to you.

  • Red light stops you at the intersection
  • You’re stuck waiting at the train station
  • Get a text
  • Called to a meeting
  • Merge lanes

Any one of these could be the trigger you need to start a new habit.

These may be triggers for the habit you didn’t even know you had. For instance, is there anything you do before merging lane or crossing the street? What’s your go to when stopped at a red light?

If you didn’t notice anything before, you might start to now.

For example, you could start MakeoverMonday after cleaning the dishes Sunday night. Once done with the dishes sit down and read the associated article. Done. You have started a new habit.

Eventually, you will link more tasks together such as connecting to the dataset, creating a simple viz and Tweeting it out to the #MakeoverMonday community. But you don't have to start here. Get the habits going and watch your capacity increase with time. There’s nothing to be gained by blowing your engine out at the starting line.

2. KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple)

Often the hardest part is getting started, taking the leap, or having the hard conversation.

Wherever we look, life makes change hard. To succeed we need to reduce the friction to start. As a data viz person I can ask you to think of start tension as cognitive load. The easier you make starting, the more effective you will be.

You may be familiar with the hack to make running in the morning easier. If you want to run in the morning, go to sleep in your active attire and put your runners right next to the bed so that they’re the first thing your feet touch. If you want to walk more, then start by grabbing a pedometer to count those steps, take the stairs, or go out for lunch instead of staying sat at your desk.

Maybe you add the Tableau Public icon on your desktop and have a reminder pop up on your phone with a link to #MakeoverMonday so you can read the new article as soon as it is published (every Sunday afternoon GMT).

Linking habits is a powerful way to drive change in your life. So combine clicking through to the article to next step where you download the dataset and connect it to Tableau Public. Lastly, don’t leave Tableau Public until you have published a simple viz and tweeted about it to the community.

Homework What trigger, behavior, reward cycle can you craft that’s easier than mine?

3. Reward yourself

We continue doing the things that make us feel good.

Positive self-talk is a hack that works for plenty of people. I like writing a daily affirmation and scratching off Pomodoro bubbles in my Productivity Planner.

credit: Intelligent Change

The act of rewarding yourself is an acknowledgment of the progress you have made. Researchers have found the feeling of achievement or sense of accomplishment to be extremely powerful in promoting repeated behaviors.

You should celebrate even the smallest wins. You do deserve a pat on the back! You have taken a serious step toward developing a skill with tremendous positive potential.

Good on you!

Hang in for the long-term

Forming new habits is great to talk about as if we live our lives in a lab, but that isn’t reality. Things come up. We aren’t in the same place every Sunday, with the same people, or with working WiFi 😭

The next level of adoption is tied up in your identity. If you identify as a Tableau pro, then that belief will influence behaviors leading to your becoming this Tableau pro. If you identify as someone who is never on time, then you will wait until the last minute, let things get in the way without a backup plan and be THAT person who is always late. Hopefully, I didn’t offend anyone with that last remark, but you know it’s true.

Beliefs are better than goals when forming a new behavior because what you’re trying to do is create a new lifestyle. To successful up-level with Tableau, you must fundamentally believe it’s possible.

Learning Tableau could be life changing, publishing one public viz for #MakeoverMonday is a new type of lifestyle.

Often we try to achieve a performance based change without proving to ourselves that we’re the type of person who can change. I started trying to get a side split by telling myself “I have never been flexible.” Guess what, I proved myself right and still don’t look like this picture.


It’s easier to think of success as a series of small steps repeated, rather than a massive accomplishment. This idea is why breaking big problems down into snack sizes is more productive.

Even Elon can’t get us to Mars without a few failed experiments. Nor do we go from bumbling around on our bellies to running. We take baby steps until our footing is more sound and run well only after gaining the strength and lung capacity.

“If you plant the right seed in the right spot, it will grow without further coaxing. I believe this is the best metaphor for creating habits.”
— BJ Fogg

MakeoverMonday is the perfect vehicle to help you craft this habit. So, plant this “seed” in the right routine for your life and watch the Tableau skills grow naturally.

P.S. Here's a step-by-step to get your environment fully setup for popping out Public vizzes.