Using Metrics

One of the primary benefits of setting goals is that having a clear goal lets you figure out whether or not you’re making progress. Which is true, as far as it goes — I set goals last year for our first annual planning session, and there’s no doubt that I have made a lot more progress over the last year than I did the year before. But I’d like to be able to say with more certainty how much progress I’ve made.

Enter Metrics

When you’re ready for the next level of tracking your progress and reaching your goals, it’s time to start using metrics.

Metric is from the Latin word for measure, and in this case, it means simply that: measure what you’re doing. If you set SMART goals, then your goal is already measurable, you simply need to actually measure it. Otherwise, you need to sit down and make your goal SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).

Selecting Metrics

For each objective you have, figure out what you could measure to determine if you’re making progress. In some cases, this might be really obvious: if your objective is to lose weight, then clearly you want to measure your weight. In other cases it might require more creativity: if you want to improve your relationship with your partner, you might need to get more specific (“I want to have fewer fights”) or to select a set of metrics for this goal (“Number of fights” + “Number of positive interactions” + “Time spent together per week” + “Subjective assessment”)

For each metric, jot down the following:

  • Why this metric matters
  • How this metric will be used
  • Tracking methods to measure effectiveness
  • How data will be captured

For example, for the losing-weight objective, you might write down:

    Metric: My weight
  • This metric matters because none of my dieting and exercise matters if I don’t actually lose pounds
  • Add each weight measurement to a graph, so I can see the overall trend.
  • I will weigh myself once a week, on Sunday, before breakfast.
  • I will capture the data using my bathroom scale.

When I had an objective of keeping my temper under control, my metric was how many times I lost my temper per day (yes, multiple times per day!) My list would have looked something like this:

    Metric: How many times I lose my temper each day
  • This metric matters because I’m trying to keep my temper, and how often I lose it is a good measure of whether or not I’m succeeding
  • Compare average temper-loss-per-day month to month.
  • Write down how many times I lost my temper today on the calendar, so I have an amount for each day.
  • Wear a length of chain around my neck, and tie a knot in it every time I lose my temper

Using Metrics

Once you have a metric, and have determined that it’s a good metric for helping you achieve your goals, and have determined how to measure it (and how often), the next step is to actually do that. Monthly and weekly goals can be reviewed at your monthly planning and weekly planning. For daily goals (and especially things where you’re likely to have some fluctuations, like weight or spending or keeping your temper), it’s often helpful to have a graph, so that you can see the overall trends. If you have a “Do/buy/sell/earn this much stuff” type of goal, one of those thermometer-style graphs like they use for fundraisers may be helpful.

Whatever you choose, I do recommend keeping your metrics out in front of you. The more you see them, the more likely you are to act on them.

Resources For Further Reading
Annual Planning