Measuring progress is second nature to most people. But it's not second nature to measure progress well, which can lead to some real misjudgments. Put more thought into your progress checks, to make them a consistent source of good.
Measurement! I just love measurement. That’s because it tells you how you’re doing and how much progress you’ve made. Progress checks can motivate you, help you catch yourself when you’re slacking, and tell you when to change course.
Without giving thought to how you define progress, however, you can measure the wrong thing, or measure the wrong way. You might end up demoralized for no reason, or falling behind unknowingly on a project, or missing opportunities. So if you’re going to measure progress, do it right! Turn off auto-pilot “gut checks” and measure progress thoughtfully.
Measure process goals
If you’re Type A like me, you probably overwork yourself, under the assumption that more work gives more progress. But does it? Have you ever measured? Just being busy and stressed doesn’t mean we’re getting anything done. We need to track how far we are from our goal, and whether we’re closing that gap.
First determine the kind of goals you’re chasing. Episode 462, “Grow a Pair for Your Career,” outlines the difference between outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals—like getting a promotion—are something you strive for, not something you just do. Process goals, on the other hand, are measurable actions that help you get closer to your outcome goal, like making ten more sales calls each day.
If you’re going to measure progress, do it right! Turn off auto-pilot “gut checks” and measure progress thoughtfully.
On a daily basis, measure progress through movement toward your process goals. It doesn’t matter how much you work, only whether that work takes you closer to finishing that day’s process goals. Then check that your process goals are doing what they should, by tracking overall movement toward an outcome goal.
For example, if you work in sales, your process goal might be to make fifty cold calls a day. If that’s your goal, sending two hundred emails should not count as progress. What’s more, if your outcome goal is to close sales, and you haven’t closed one in months, you may need to rethink if you have the right process goals. Maybe “number of calls” doesn’t lead to sales. Maybe you need to make progress on the quality of your calls, instead. So make your new process goal tweaking your sales pitch, and direct some work toward that.
Measure how far you’ve come
Another way to track progress is to look at how far you are from your starting point.
Sam is a twenty-something who’s just started up a fairly successful online delivery company. The vision of being the next Amazon.com seems impossible! Or at least, light years away. And it is. But knowing that it’s not Amazon yet isn’t a useful measure for evaluating progress. Furthermore, it’s so far away that it isn’t even clear which paths lead to that result.
Sam can instead concentrate on what’s been accomplished so far. They started sitting around a dining room table. Now they have office space, customers, a business model that works, money in the bank, and profit. By measuring progress based on how far they’ve come, not on how far they have left to go, Sam can realize they’ve made tons of progress, and can make sure it continues to unfold, as more and more milestones get added to the list.
Measure distance to your goals
At some point your goal is within reach. Then, you can start measuring how far you are from your goal, and concentrate on closing the gap.
Don’t do this too soon! You can hurt morale. At my last Harvard Business School reunion, for example, doing an “Am I there yet?” progress check gave me a soul-crushing burst of inadequacy as I was moderating a panel of my classmates, whose combined net worth was enough to purchase a third world country and pave it over. In gold.
When you’re out on a long run, you get a surge of fresh energy when you see you’re only ten feet from the finish line, and there’s an entire 55-gallon drum of gummy bears waiting at the end. And an Oreo ice cream cake. The next thing you know, you’re barreling over the finish line.
When you’ve passed the halfway point, start measuring your progress by how quickly you’re closing on your goal. Keep that Oreo ice cream cake in mind, and set new goals to push you those last few feet.
Even if you get some steps wrong, just making the plan will energize you and be motivating.
A good way to do this is to make a checklist of things you’ll need to do to reach the end point. These can be high-level things like, “Run A/B testing with focus groups,” or low-level things like, “Write an email to call for A/B testing participants.” Once your plan is on paper, finishing your project will seem much more doable, since all the steps left to take are right there in front of you. And as I talked about in episode 466, "Make a Plan for Motivation," even if you get some steps wrong, just making the plan will energize you and be motivating.
Once you figure out the best way to track your progress, and the types of progress you need to track, choose how often you’ll track. Sometimes, tracking progress once a week is plenty. But from my experience, it’s best to track progress every two to three days.
That way, if you suddenly notice you’re not where you should be, you only have to make up two or three days’ worth of work. If you were only checking once a week, you could get an entire week behind before you’d notice it.
From my experience, it’s best to track progress every two to three days.
What gets measured gets managed. And we love to manage progress. On a daily basis, concentrate your measurements on your progress goals, rather than your outcome goals. Then choose a less-frequent measurement that is based on where you are in your project: distance to your goal, or distance from your starting point. With a little experimentation, you can find the magic balance that keeps you on top of your game.
This is Stever Robbins. I give great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, and entrepreneurship. If you want to know more, visit http://SteverRobbins.com.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!