You Get What You Measure

You Get What You Measure

I’ve long known that if I want to get better at something, I need to pay attention to it. Whole books have been written about the incredible power of focus. This is why written goals work so well–if they are specific, concrete, and measurable–and if you refer to them regularly.

But recently, with summer travels and school out and our household schedule in flux, my goals have been dropping from view, especially because my daily rhythms aren’t consistent. After experimenting with way too many strategies for keeping my focus on the important things, I’ve landed on a strategy that’s actually working right now.

I mashed up Gretchen Rubin’s resolutions chart with Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, and created a simple checklist. It looks like this:

You Get What You Measure (checklist)

I’m tracking 8 items right now–enough for me to see real progress, but not so many I’ll get overwhelmed and quit–and I’m giving myself permission to change them at any time. If my list had to be perfect in order to begin, I’d never get started.

The newest addition to my personal to-do list–and the one that’s probably least obvious to you–is “deliberate practice.” Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept–and the corollary 10,000 hour rule–in his book Outliers.Β I’ve been exploring the idea of deliberate practice lately, and I’m convinced I need to do more of it.

I’ll check this box if I hit 1 hour of deliberate writing practice every day. This doesn’t sound like much, but “deliberate practice” is different from ordinary writing: deliberate practice is hard work that explicitly addresses your weaknesses.

I expect this to be my hardest box to check, because I need to plan ahead to get my daily hour: this focused work isn’t suited for rest time, with my kids popping in and out of their rooms. It’s for the early morning quiet, or when the sitter is here, or on my day off.

Because the early mornings are so important to me, I added a 10pm bedtime to my checklist. I kept a time diary last week for the first time in a year, and wow, was it telling. I can ruin a day the night before if I don’t get to bed on time.

I’m thinking about what other areas of my life could benefit from measurement. I’m thinking about logging my time for another week, and about maybe getting one of those fitbit thingies. (Has anyone used one? I’d love to hear.) I get better at the things I measure, so: what am I going to measure?

Which areas of your life do you measure in order to maintain your focus? Or, which areas of your life SHOULD you be tracking, and why?


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  1. Katy Rotman says:

    I’ve recently started/went back to using 42 goals for tracking my daily goals, sort of the same as “Don’t break the chain”. your checklist got me thinking that having it in hard copy might be a better way for me

  2. Sarah says:

    My husband had a fitbit (until he lost the charger… now he has a very snazzy bracelet… grrr) and really liked it. It’s really just a glorified pedometer, though. So it depends what you’re trying to measure. I think if you want to capture more overall fitness activities, you might go with the Nike FuelBand.

  3. Corrie Anne says:

    I have the fitbit zip, and it’s a lot of fun. I have a few friends on the iPhone app, and I can see when they are ahead of me on our 7-day step totals. It definitely motivates me to go for an extra little walk!!

  4. I should be tracking my bedtime. It’s so easy to let it slip later and later and then I’m not getting up before the kids and that throws my entire day off. I should also track whether or not I’m exercising, and maybe that would get me to do it more frequently. πŸ™‚

  5. Jen says:

    I am tracking what I eat (again). I use myfitnesspal and I’ve been on and off it for the past year or so. I know that if I track every day (and stay within my calorie goals) I will see progress. It’s this on again/off again deal that’s keeping me from meeting my goals.

    I like your spreadsheet above and think I may start one myself after I get back from vacation. Other things I’ll track: exercise, vitamins, piano practice (maybe?), reading with the kids, stretching with the kids (they’re dancers and this helps them improve and helps me since I’m always sore from working out), and maybe one or two things that will help me gain order in our home.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Without realizing it I’ve been using Jerry’s secret to get myself exercising! After reading The Happiness Project I thought about doing a chart but let the perfectionism get in the way and I never followed through. Glad to hear it’s working for you! I’ll have to give it a try…I’ve been feeling very disorganized lately!!

  7. Linda says:

    It’s funny that you should write about this, I was just thinking about how I’m almost ready to start school schedules back up just so I can get more done. The fluidity of summertime is making it difficult to get normal everyday stuff done never mind extra projects. But, it is a great time for ice cream and root beer floats πŸ™‚

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Since I read about this idea, I was curious about how others went on to make their own resolution charts like the one’s in Gretchen Rubin’s books – what they would look like and what they would measure. Very cool. πŸ™‚

    How many days have you committed to with those specific goals? *I’m still figuring out the right goal/habit duration time for my short term goals.*

    • Anne says:

      Elizabeth, most of these are pretty essential for me. I’ll probably need to track them until the end of time. I’m only sort of kidding. πŸ™‚

  9. Jillian Kay says:

    My work bought us all fitbits for a wellness thing. I like it better than any pedometer I’ve owned, but I’m not sure I’d buy it for myself. It was pricey.

    One of the best things about it is it fits better than anything else when you’re wearing a dress. Most other pedometers are designed to clip to your pants or sit in your pocket. This one can clip in a variety of places. Also the battery lasts a long time.

    I used the sleep tracking feature before I got depressed and stopped (2 year old was going through a bad phase at that time).

    Let me know if you want more information. I’ve been using mine since May 1.

  10. I’ve been thinking of my blogging as writing practice. I’m not sure it’s about shoring up my weaknesses per se, though I do try to think about writing tight and with fewer adverbs. But mostly it’s about making sure I do a high volume of writing. That high volume, in and of itself, has made me more efficient. I cranked out a draft of an 850-word column in less than 90 minutes this morning. I’ll spend another 30 minutes revising and then it will probably be good to go. That’s because I’m writing 500-1000 word essays daily (more than daily, really, when I count my other blogs, too). Years ago it might have taken me most of the day.

    • Anne says:

      “I cranked out a draft of an 850-word column in less than 90 minutes this morning. I’ll spend another 30 minutes revising and then it will probably be good to go….Years ago it might have taken me most of the day.”

      That’s the most encouraging thing I’ve read all day. Seriously.

  11. Krystal says:

    That’s so funny! I just made an account on Don’t Break the Chain which is based on the Seinfeld method. Every night before bed (because I’m usually on the computer), I mark an X if I accomplished my main goals (blog daily, drink enough water, take a walk, get email inbox down to 15). I also am a huge Gretchen Rubin fan, so I like what you’ve done here by putting these strategies together. I’m still trying to figure out a “system” that works. I started really focusing on measuring my goals in May…can’t believe it’s already July!

  12. Karlyne says:

    I love the spread sheet, but when I first glanced at it and saw “pullups”, I thought you must be potty training a toddler… Must be because that’s what’s going on around here!

  13. Carrie says:

    Have you read Cheeseslave’s blog? She’s been writing a lot lately about her FitBit.

    My checklist looks a lot like the one you created. It has the following things on it: Read Bible, Practice French, Take Walk, Blog, Do 5 Push-Ups, Do Planks, Clean Stove, Wash Face/Moisturize, Floss.

    And I HAVE to have the visual too! Like a kid with a chore chart πŸ™‚

  14. Sarah Wells says:

    My husband has the fitbit and syncs it to his myfitnesspal app, and he likes it. He hasn’t used the sleep tracking option on it yet. I think that would be depressing, though, as he’s a busy cancer doctor and unfortunately his sleep schedule suffers dramatically when he’s on call (um, and mine does too when that phone rings). I’ll get the fitbit after my pregnancy, didn’t really want to use it while pregnant, though I do track my intake on myfitnesspal.

    As far as the different goals I measure and keep up with–a lot of them!! Most involve household tasks. I use the To-Do app on my iphone and set certain things to repeat daily or weekly to be sure I check them off regularly. Honestly there is no way I’d be able to keep practicing medicine and homeschool and run a busy family’s schedule if I didn’t review my goals daily. What I need to track more? Writing time. I really want to improve over time, and I know the key is regular practice. It’s just fitting that in that’s the problems right now…

    yes, to be able to stay up later AND wake up earlier…sigh…there is so much more I could DO!

  15. Ana says:

    Glad I’m not the only one having trouble getting to bed! Its so hard when its light until after 9PM—the kids don’t go to bed on time, and thus my “me time” gets pushed later & later. Because I exercise in the morning, though, going to bed at after 11 generally means NOT getting up at 5:30 to work-out. So I think I need to measure: bedtime and working out—I’m sure there will be a positive correlation between early bedtime & working out!!
    I have a FitBit in my “saved” cart on Amazon. I have heard great things but really pricey…

  16. Breanne says:

    I need this in my life! Brilliant idea. I’m very much of a visual person and it would be an awesome reminder to go to bed and do those essential things that I need to do daily.
    Do you count blog writing as deliberate practice? Or do you have other writing you do?

    • Anne says:

      Breanne, I sometimes count blog writing as deliberate practice. It depends on what I’m writing and how I’m going about it. Finalizing posts, adding links, tweaking photos…those things are definitely NOT deliberate practice though!

      I’m writing more about deliberate practice soon. πŸ™‚

  17. Cristy M says:

    Anne: Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your spreadsheet at a time when I need it so much! I have been struggling to get to bed on time, to exercise, and to remember to wash my face in the morning before I run in to grab my fussing, teething baby. This “at-a-glance” chart will help me get back on track. I really appreciate you sharing this information and I am sure it will help so many of us!

  18. Victoria says:

    Hopefully you find this funny but here is how my brain works. Okay so I am looking at your list and see “pull ups” and my mind immediately goes to the type you buy for potty training children, and I am thinking, why on earth is she tracking “pull up” usage! LOL Then my mom of 3 brain kicks off and my fitness brain kicks in and I smack my forehead and go “OH PULL UPS LIKE THE EXERCISE” .

  19. so here’s the thing – I start measuring something (like calories, maybe) and then decide that measuring it is too much work, and/or I don’t care enough to do that much work. So I guess (thinking through my fingertips) you have to really care about the change you want to make before you even start measuring it, right?

    • Anne says:

      “thinking through my fingertips” — I like it. πŸ™‚

      I guess you’re right–if you don’t care about the change, it’ll be hard to make yourself measure it! (Also, it’s interesting to see what people care enough about to measure.)

  20. Pingback: April Goals
  21. Alex says:

    Thank you for posting this article. We love the simplicity of Joe’s Goals.

    One of the things I have been struggling with is not tracking daily goals but being committed to them. Based on this we developed our own spin on daily goal tracking at Non Zero Day ( where we not only track daily goals but set daily commitments to stay accountable and turn your daily goals into habits.

    I would to talk if you have any questions about it!

  22. kathy says:

    I notice that you are a rower. I row too. I wondered if you could post bout that sometime. It is such a great exercise for so many different reasons. Do you have a waterrower?

  23. Pam says:

    I love my fitbit! Now that I’m older, I have found that the only way I can lose weight or keep it off is if I get 10,000 steps a day. And I like that I can use it to wake me up more gently than my phone does. I have lost 22 pounds in a year by using it to get my steps in.

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