You get what you measure
Tomorrow is a deadline for this latest round of book revisions, which is an exciting milestone as it marks the end of step 14 of ∞ in my publishing journey. But don’t worry, this is not a Writer Angst™ post! Nay, I actually have something interesting to share that you might find helpful and/or at least worth the time you spent blowing off more important things to read this post.
The other day I remarked to my husband that I was surprised at how smoothly the last re-write went (everything being relative, of course — by “smoothly” I mean “it got done and I did not, technically, die”). To him, this was not a surprise at all. He said he knew I’d get it done the moment I set word count goals and tracked my progress against them. “You get what you measure,” he remarked with a shrug, as if making a statement about the greenness of grass.
You get what you measure.
I guess this is an obvious statement to people with MBAs, but to me, it was revolutionary. I thought about other times that I have measured some aspect of my life, and realized that it almost always yielded results: When we started tracking our debt on a spreadsheet that we updated month-to-month, it went down at a higher rate than before. When I kept a food journal to track what and how much I ate each day, my eating habits improved. When I started noting how long I could run without stopping, my stamina increased significantly. I thought of a handful of other examples as well. In each case, the improvements occurred with little obvious effort on my part. The simple act of measuring this area of my life put it on my mental radar; and having clear numbers forced me take a hard look at reality, rather than letting the truth get lost in the ether of uncertainty.
Perhaps more startlingly, I realized that there’s a telling flip-side to this concept as well: If you want to see where your priorities are, look at what you measure.
Most recently, I was measuring wordcounts. But I regularly perform rough measurements in other areas of life as well, even if I don’t write them down: Each day, I’m acutely aware of my “Free Time I Actually Had” to “Free Time I Expected to Have” ratio (and I treat my husband to detailed analysis of this metric as soon as he walks through the door each afternoon). I know almost to the minute how much time the baby spent napping, and how much sleep I got the night before.
Now, ask me for those same detailed numbers about how many minutes I spent in prayer, or how much quality time I had with the kids. I could probably come up with the answer eventually, but I don’t know off the top of my head. I don’t measure it.
I intentionally didn’t make a lot of plans this summer, mainly so that I can have the space to re-evaluate, re-prioritize, and re-focus before we get back into the swing of things again in the Fall. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would go about getting things in order, but I’m starting to think it may be as simple as taking a good look at what I measure.
P.S. If you’re looking for more detailed and interesting thoughts in this area, read about what Modern Mrs. Darcy learned from keeping a time diary.