Measure What’s Important

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You have probably heard, "If you don't measure it, you can't improve it."

True.

You can't make something better unless you can get objective feedback on how you're doing. By choosing a metric, and periodically measuring it, you can see whether the changes you are making are having any effect.

Moreover, if you don't measure it, you can't even tell if you need to start an improvement program, or keep doing something you're doing right. Things could be getting better or worse, and you'd never know.

If you don't measure it, you can't even monitor it.

This is why for years, every day I have kept track of a short list of things that are important to me, things like my weight, how many hours I worked on my book the previous day, and whether I kept my New Year's Resolution that day.

Some of them are literally measured. My weight is measured in pounds on a doctor's scale.

Some of them are reviewed and then recorded in units meaningful to me. My time on my book is measured in Pomodoros, which I count up from my tracking sheet used the day before.) Whether I kept my resolution the previous day is recorded as a check mark or an X — yes or no.

The list of things I measure changes over time, as one thing becomes more important, and another less. I find you can only improve on one or two fronts at a time; on the other fronts, you simply maintain the status quo. When I try to monitor and improve in too many areas at once, my energy is dissipated and I don't make progress in any direction.

Just by taking a few minutes every morning to fill in a chart with the measurements from the previous day, I remind myself that these items are important. So, for example, I may see that my weight has sneaked up. I may not start a formal diet, but I will at least start mulling over how to change that trend.

It's not always easy to find the right metric. I recommend choosing something that is easy to measure, and which is fairly stable from day to day, so that you can see trends pretty easily.

Sometimes you need to make up your own metric. For example, I have a self-care metric. Every day I consult a list like this:

  • Communicated as needed
  • Finished something important
  • 6-8 Pomodoros of deep intellectual work
  • Managed financial activity
  • Got on top of little stuff
  • Alexander Technique Self-Lesson
  • Exercised twice
  • Ate as planned
  • Desk by 8:30
  • House & Office made nice
  • Pretty including makeup
  • Found the motivation by values
  • Bonding conversation
  • Read/listened to Non-fiction
  • In-the-moment adventure: flute/sing/fun

This is a list, in no particular order, of things that help make my day a good day. I do not expect to do all of these in any given day. But I know from past experience that when I do any of these, it contributes to making that day a good day. Your list would be different.

Each morning, I count up how many items I did on the previous day, and that is my numerical rating. 10 and above is always a good day. Below 5 is always bad day. When I have a 10, I have a 15 second celebration. When the numbers are just below 10, I remind myself of the little things that make an okay day a good day. When the number dips below 7, I start thinking about how to make sure I have a better day tomorrow.

What is important to you? Come up with a metric, and keep an eye on it. What matters needs to be measured.

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