What Do You Measure?

Managers are told that whatever they measure will get attention and improvement. If they measure the number of defects in cars coming off the manufacturing line, just giving it this attention will help lower the number of defects. So, how can you use this for your personal productivity?


The same rule applies. Measure the things that you want to improve. For example, if you want to read more this year, keep a list of every book you read. If you want to write more for your blog, keep track of how many posts or words you produce each week. If you want to lose some weight, keep a chart in the bathroom next to your scale and record your weight every day. If you want to watch less television, keep a chart near the TV and keep track of how many hours you spend channel surfing.

Keeping track of stuff requires effort and time on your part, but if you make it easy to do, the benefits can far outweigh any time that is lost recording your activities.

Consider keeping track of stuff in Excel. That way you can print out a graph and post it somewhere you are likely to see it to help remind you. For example, if you print out a graph of your weight for the past month and tape it to the refrigerator, it will serve as a good visual reminder every time you head for a snack.

The goal is to clearly quantify whatever you want to improve so you can see if you are doing better or worse. Just making things easier to visualize can go a long way toward making you more productive and focused on your goals.

Originally published August 21, 2007.


  1. mark says

    “If they measure the number of defects in cars coming off the manufacturing line, just giving it this attention will help lower the number of defects”

    Weighing a pig doesn’t make it any fatter!

  2. says

    Amen! I’ve been offering this low cost-high impact tool to clients and employers for years. Sadly, they just don’t get it. Adults will do anything for “points”. Tracking weight is an excellent example, give a sticker for every day of a loss and soon the pounds will melt away.

    One caveat. In business you need to make sure that you are measuring the right things. If you have sales professionals whose job is to heat up prospects and gain an initial commitment then turn them over to someone else to close the deal, you cannot measure the sales person on closes, it is not their function. Rather, you want to look at pipeline cleanliness, % of leads to close, Length of time from interest to close, etc. It is a more accurate measurement of the person’s effectiveness.

    Sage advice in this post, thanks for that!

  3. Mark Shead says

    @Mark – The act of weighing a pig doesn’t make it any fatter, but consider two farmers. One weighs his pigs every day and charts how much they have gained. The second farmer, doesn’t weigh his pigs or even look at them to see if they are growing. The first farmer’s pigs are almost certainly going to weigh more over time because the farmer is paying attention to the weigh and this will modify his behavior in how he takes care of the pigs. A better example is if the farmer was weighing himself. :)

    @Mike – I heard about an IT department that was given bonuses based on how many tickets they closed. After awhile they realized that their proactive work habits were preventing tickets from occurring, so they weren’t getting as big of bonuses as they could with more tickets. They finally started unplugging network equipment for a few minutes which would result in a flurry of tickets. They would then plug the equipment back in and close all the tickets. This increased their metrics so they would get more of their potential bonus. What was being measured wasn’t a good indication of how well they were doing their jobs even though at first glance it seemed appropriate. Determining what to measure can be very tricky and is one of the primary skills of a good manager.

  4. Paul says

    As Einstein said (was it Einstein?) the simple act of observation changes the behavior of an object. Research further demonstrates that persons trying to lose weight, who weigh themselves every day, lose more weight on average than those who weigh-in weekly….

  5. Andrew says

    On a similar vein categorization can work wonders. When I was trying to dress better i sorted clothes based by 3 grades, and quickly realized how many of my clothes where in the lowest grade or worse, though there didn’t appear anything overly wrong with them. The result was i started buying clothes i would grade A or B, and not buying clothes i liked that i however thought only looked grade C when worn.

    Similarly when i was trying to work out where all my money was going, i collected all my receipts over a week and categorized what in essence i was paying for. When i realized all those $3 snacks where adding up to a substantial sum it became so much easier to say no to them.

    @Mark- No, but it may induce the farmer to fill the trough higher =p

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