What you Measure Will Improve

Metrics and measurements can be objectively used to track progress, both in business and in your personal life. Here is how to leverage the management tool of measuring outcomes to optimize your own life.

Many business and management guides will tell you to be vary careful what you measure, and what you define to be your success metrics. If you use the wrong metrics, the results can be disastrous.

Take for example a change in IT support in a large corporation. Management decide that the metric for success for each IT support staff member should be the number of tickets (complaints) that they manage to deal with. As a result, the team managers ended up solving more tickets but the overall number of ticket resolved went down. This is because senior team members, the team managers, tended to take on the harder, more complex tickets, which took longer to resolve. They started to pick easier tickets to meet their metrics.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Peter Drucker

Most of the time your personal metrics are provided for you. If wealth is your goal, then bank balance is your metric. If you need to lower your blood pressure, then your systolic and diastolic pressures will be your metric. But sometimes, you need to provide your own metrics. How many times did you go to the gym in the past month? Maybe you know that you went a couple of times a week, but is that more that the month before? Is that more than the month before? Is that on target for the amount of times you are trying to go to the gym each month?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Lord Kelvin

Setting up and tracking personal metrics is a valuable tool for self-improvement. You need to decide what it is that you want to measure, how you want to measure it, and what your goal is going to be.

To decide what you want to improve is simple: whatever you have been thinking about for a while, maybe you have made a couple of efforts in the past, it is a completely personal choice.

Deciding how to measure it is slightly harder. The defined measurement needs to be precise enough that its hard to cheat. For example, if I want to start mediating more, counting each time I sit down and focus on breathing as meditation means that I could count the time I sit down for three minutes before getting distracted and doing something else as my meditation. A better definition would be meditating for at least 10 minutes each day.

The goal is the hardest part. The goal is to improve, so it needs to be above your current level, but not so difficult that you don’t think you’ll be able to do it. Set a goal that you are 90% sure you will be able to reach. For example, if you are starting from a base of not going to the gym, then setting a goal of going to the gym once this week is good. Once you have done that for a couple of weeks, maybe try going two times in one week, and once the other week.

Once you have a goal, and a metric, set a regular period to review your progress. If you are hitting a roadblock, you may need to do some thinking. But remember, if you aren’t hitting roadblocks, you aren’t moving forward. As my dad and I always say about snowboarding: If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying.