What to do when you get stuck in Tableau!?

… or in any other analytical tool for that matter.

As a person who uses Tableau 95% of the time, I have to say it: I get stuck. A lot!
And I’m not ashamed of it.

I believe it’s normal to run into problems when you’re trying to improve.

Most of the work we do in Tableau is for other people.

The software is great for analysis and for getting answers quickly.

However, we will often want to share our findings with colleagues, shareholders, clients, or social media followers.

This is where the pressure comes in. The pressure that we will be judged by other people based on our conclusions, accuracy, chart choices, design, presentation skills, and so on.

And while some people thrive on it, others might find it overwhelming.
Sometimes it might push us to the point of giving up.

Please don’t! It will get better.

Below are some thoughts that I hope will help you as well as myself in troubled times.

Back in my day

Let me take you back to when I first started using Tableau. Below is one of the first dashboards I published on Tableau Public.

It’s quite bad! You probably noticed how I placed the underwater volcano eruptions on top of the above sea level ones 🤦‍♂️
Also, there’s a complete lack of axes, explanations, and so on. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I expect that today I wouldn’t do anything like this.

But I am ok with it. I was learning Tableau and seeing how people respond to my work along the way.

The point I am trying to make is that it’s a process. And it takes time.

It’s like learning a new language or how to drive. You will suck at it at first!
Well, not if you’re Samo Drole or Judit Bekker. Chances are, you’re not them. Although I’m sure they had their share of struggle.

Give yourself time! You got all to way up to here, which is not negligible.

Think about it this way: once you know how to drive, you can go to a whole lot of places. Once you know a different language, you can communicate with millions of people.
Once you know Tableau, you can reach almost anyone on this planet.

That’s my perspective on it!

Breaking Tableau

I’m a big fan of Chris Love’s presentation titled When Tableau Breaks in which he tries to demystify common Tableau roadblocks.

The truth is that it does break. I am not here to tell you that it doesn’t.

But what I want you to know is this: the upside of pushing through difficult times is huge.
Being able to touch the minds of people using data visualization is something special.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat

Another beauty of working with Tableau is that you can take multiple routes to reach the end result.
I remember how I was overthinking if how I was doing it was the right way of doing it.

There’s no such thing. There’s no wrong way to go about it as long as you achieve your goals.

The moment I stopped caring happened while I was reading Practical Tableau by Ryan Sleeper.

I hear myself saying almost every day: there is always more than one way to do the same thing in Tableau. You will find your own techniques, form your own habits, and hear different opinions—and they likely will all have merit. You truly can take multiple paths to get to the same end result in Tableau.

Excerpt From “Practical Tableau” by Ryan Sleeper

Hearing this from someone like Ryan helped me see that I am not alone. From that moment on I could do less thinking and more doing.

There’s no cheating

I love this part. There are probably a lot of areas where you can cheat your way out of things. But not with data analysis, and definitely not with Tableau.

There’s only work and patience. If you add passion to the mix, you will achieve great things.

Learning common chart names

There’s a lot of content out there on how to create things in Tableau. Searching on Google, Youtube, or on the community forums will help. But how can you search for something if you don’t know what it is?

If you learn the chart names you will know what you need, which will make your life thousand times easier.

Andy Kriebel’s Visual Vocabulary is probably the best collection in the field. Have a look at it if you haven’t yet.

Knowing why and when to use the different chart types is a whole different story. A skill that will make you a Tableau badass.

Forgoing fanciness

Fancy messes things up. Fancy takes time. Fancy rarely works in real life.
Fancy is fun, but simple gets the job done!

The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple

Albert Einstein

There’s no way we’re smarter than Einstein!

Have a look at the following viz I build in 60 minutes live at TC 19:

Definitely not a groundbreaker!
I quickly analyzed the data, found a story, and tried to showcase it in a simple way.

The pleasant surprise for me happened when I got a response from Steve Wexler on Twitter.

I definitely don’t see this as outstanding, so I had to ask him about it.
He told me that he liked that there were no surprises. Yes, surprises can become roadblocks when trying to reach an audience.

Keeping the work simple would make a world of difference in getting your message across.

If it burns you’re on the right path

Not all things are as easy to do as advertised. The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs quite often for people learning Tableau.

Everything seems so easy at first when we start dragging and dropping pills to create charts.
But when you get to table calculations, level of detail expressions, order of operations your head might start to hurt.

Don’t worry about it! It’s just your brain expanding.
You are not the first one going through this. It’s a natural step in the process.

Just keep going!
There’s not a lot of people willing to go the extra mile. You might just be one of the few who will manage to break through.

Take a break

When I feel I’m hitting a wall, taking a breather always helps.

It’s almost magical!

Leaving the brain settle down for a few moments (or in some cases days) works superbly for me.
Idle time is such an important part of our lives! Especially when working with data.


Having someone to keep you accountable will help keep you on track.

You can probably leverage social media for this purpose just as well. People from the Tableau community are active on Twitter and Linkedin.

They could hold you accountable if you ask them to. They might help you if you get stuck and they will give you feedback.

Just keep in mind that they’re not obligated to do so. Be respectful of their time!

Social projects

Getting involved will give you a great platform to practice without big repercussions hanging over your head.

I owe a lot of my skills to MakeoverMonday. I participated well over 50 times at this point.
And I always submitted for feedback. It was oftentimes harsh, but it was what I needed to get it.

WorkoutWednesday is another great invention of the community. You get to practice and build a good toolset for your future work.
Now we even get video walkthroughs on how to create the things, which is nothing short of extraordinary!

Practice will help you prevent getting stuck in the future. It’s like eating vegetables and working out regularly.
Not always awesome, but it’s good for you!

And you also get to build an online portfolio. Tableau Public is awesome!


We constantly need to work on our confidence! It needs to be nurtured.
Cutting down the difficulty level, in the beginning, will get you going.

We also need to build on positive moments! It doesn’t matter how small they are as long as they help us progress.
They will eventually make us feel like we know what we are doing.

And try to keep track of what you’ve overcome and how you got over it.

This is a big one for me!

Having a place to store your knowledge might save us a lot of time. You will find that some issues will come up time and time again.
And I often forget how I got over them. Having them written down saves my life on a regular basis.

Whatever you do, put some love into it

Going in with a positive mindset beats the crap out of any other way.

Failure and defeat are a necessary part of achievement and self-fulfillment.

Christian Chabot (original Tableau CEO) on the Tableau Wannabe Podcast back in 2015.

Take the time to enjoy the process. Because if we don’t enjoy the work, what are we doing here?

And be kind to yourself! You’re doing the best you can.

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