At this time of the year, are there any goals you had set that you want to make progress on? There are some simple steps that can help you in becoming more productive and effective.
There is an old business saying, “what is measured, improves.” I believe that this saying applies, to not just your business, but also your life. If you measure something, you gain conscious awareness of it. Once you gain conscious awareness, you improve your ability to control it.
Reaching your goals is like a delicate surgical procedure. Would you like to carry out the procedure with a scalpel or a baseball bat? Measurement adds precision to your goal-setting efforts, and helps you see whether your efforts are on target.
The main reason why we need to measure personal change frequently is that people (which includes you and me) are self-delusional. For example, if you don’t measure, you may probably underestimate how much you eat, where you spend money on and how much time you waste in a day.
These biases are inevitable. The only solution is recording what you do to see if your mental picture measures up to reality.
Another reason to measure is to get feedback. Feedback is extremely important for growth. By measuring, you gain access to more immediate feedback. Is your new diet working? You can find out whether you’re eating too much calories on a daily basis, rather than waiting a month or two to see if the weights go down. Is your new routine successful? A daily time log and productivity analysis can help you measure your output per hour of work.
Immediate feedback will allow you to make quick remedy. For example, a person who is dieting conducts a diet log so that he/she can see, with relative accuracy, whether their current eating habits are in line with my goals. Without doing a log, they can only guess and hope.
Personally, I feel that sloppily reaching your goals is time consuming.
However, I am know that many people are still hesitant to jump into the deep end of personal metrics because it becomes one more thing they need to do each day. The good news is that this really isn’t necessary. There are two ways you can add more regular measurement to your life without it becoming a distraction.
- Measuring ‘automictically’
The first way to make measurement painless is simply to create a habit. If you measure something frequently, you won’t even think about it. It will become a part of your routine.
For example, I have built up the habit of writing down all of my expenses. When I first started, this required deliberate effort. However, after over the years, I barely think about the habit and it consumes only a few minutes each day. For those short minutes, I get precise information about how much money I’m spending and where the money went to. This helps me be smart when using my money. I can see where my largest controlled expenditures are and see whether these matches my goals.
- Measuring ‘intensely’
The other approach to personal metrics is to record detailed information for a few days or a week. The total time commitment is negligible, and it can give you a lot of information when you’re trying out a new plan.
How to get started? You can actually start to keep a record of when you start or stop any activity throughout the day. Alternatively, to simplify things, you may only want to record the time from when you awake till the time you finish your daily goals.
To do this, you can keep an index card and a pen with you. Whenever, you switch tasks, even something like going onto the Internet during work or using the bathroom, make a quick note. Afterwards, you can enter the data into a spreadsheet and sort it into categories.
There are two interesting findings which you may want to pay more attention to:
• The number of interruptions
• The amount of time spent on each activity
Once you start your time log, you may realise that the first point became obvious was the number of times you interrupt yourself when working. A phone would ring, or you’d use the washroom.
Interruptions break your momemtum, lengthen the amount of time you need to complete a task. I don’t want to spend eight hours to accomplish a task that should only take three. Interruptions can be the major cause of it.
Unless you get some records regarding the amount of interruptions you face, it’s hopeless. Recording metrics will help you identify how much time is wasted and also what causes those interruptions. Knowledge gives you the power to fix those problems. Actions help you to accomplish your goals.
Generally, if you do a time log, you will record the time spent on every activity of the day. This allows you to see where you actually spend your time. When you start doing this, you may not like what you see.
Some of you may start to realise that the chunks of time you spend on mindless entertainment is far more than the amount of time you need to spend on the things that matter most to you.
Time logging can be a reality check for many people because it forces you to acknowledge that you don’t spend your time in the way you’d like. But, with that awareness comes the power to experiment with new changes. With better knowledge of my time usages, I had more time for new activities like joining Toastmasters, learning to salsa and reading more books.
Another personal metric to record is what you eat. Is that donut you ate a one-time treat, or actually regular habit? If you’re trying to gain muscle, are you eating enough clean calories and protein to reach that goal?
Even if you consider yourself in good shape and want a healthy lifestyle, diet logging can still be a good idea. It allows you to track your eating habits, to know whether or not you are living up to the standards you would like for yourself.
I never like to be too obsessive about what I eat. I still prefer to eat tasty foods and not worry about every calorie or snack. I’m not suggesting you start to mash up and weigh everything before you consume it. Eating is not just about nutrition. It is also about enjoyment, socializing and experiences.
Recording what you eat doesn’t have to remove the pleasure you get from food. All it does is open up the option for you to improve the way you eat. If you have a fitness goal, this may help ganging what you eat to reach it. If you simply strive for healthy living, this will shine a light on your eating habits to see whether your menu is delicious and healthy, or simply fast junk.
Here are a few things you can do with the knowledge gained from recording a temporary diet log:
• Reduce/increase calories. Do you need to eat 1800 calories a day to meet your health goal? Then a diet log will quickly tell you whether you are going to reach your goal.
• Change the types of food. Are there a lot of processed foods, fast food and junk food on your list? A diet log can expose your eating habits so you can make a shift.
• Increase the variety of foods. Record for a week and see how frequently you eat the same meal. Life is meant to be an exploration so maybe you should broaden your menu?
• Change the timing of when you eat. If you make a note of the time along with what you eat, you can see whether you are eating multiple small meals or one huge meal. Your blood sugar has a huge impact on your energy levels, so if you see large gaps or spikes of processed carbohydrates, that may help explain your fatigue levels in different part the day.
Time, food and money are three core areas you can become more conscious about your life. What you do depends on the goals you have and what you want to improve.
“What is measured, improves,” works in business because it focuses your attention on a key issue. When I measure statistics for my website or sales conversions, I’m gaining immediate feedback on all my improvement efforts.
Recording your personal metrics works the same way. By allowing unbiased, immediate feedback you can see any change of plan in your measurements. If you’re going to spend hundreds of hours on a project or goal, why not spend a few minutes to see whether those hundreds of hours are being put to a good use.