Metrics to the rescue

My Plan B Nation tool kit holds a col­lec­tion of strate­gies, and choos­ing the right one for the chal­lenge at hand turns out to be really impor­tant. You don’t pick up a ham­mer when you need to cut a piece of wood, and I’m find­ing that my Plan B Nation tools have equally spe­cific uses.

Met­rics are a great exam­ple — and by met­rics I mean clearly estab­lished quan­tifi­able goals. This is how I got two nov­els writ­ten, by hold­ing myself to the writ­ing goal of 500 words a day. Some days I wrote more. Some days I didn’t write at all. But even on the days when work didn’t get done, I knew that the goal was there, and that made all the difference.

Because met­rics have been so use­ful to me over so many years, I’ve tended to rely on them a lot — to my mind, a lit­tle too much. On the upside, met­rics are great (for me) for get­ting things done. On the down­side (for me), they can also lead to a task-focused sort of grim­ness — where the only thing that mat­ters is for­ward motion, not how I feel in the mov­ing. Since I really value light­ness and play, this can be a prob­lem. That’s why I’ve been try­ing out dif­fer­ent tools, espe­cially bread­crumbs.

That said, there are times when met­rics are just the ticket, and now is one of those times. Yes­ter­day I talked about being in a bit of a sum­mer slump. Projects that just days ago filled me with zest now fail to spark my inter­est. Noth­ing really feels worth the effort. Every­thing feels impos­si­bly large, not to men­tion thankless.

It came at me out of the blue, this feel­ing, and I can’t entirely explain it. But regard­less, this is where I am. This is what I have to work with.

Here’s why met­rics are great (for me) at times like this:

1. They take the focus off how I feel and put it on con­crete actions.

2. They encour­age me to break up ambi­tious projects into small pieces, which are far less likely to feel over­whelm­ing. They offer a way in.

3. They tie suc­cess to some­thing within my con­trol — to actions, not outcomes.

Right now, I’m work­ing with two met­rics — you might call them micro and macro.

The first one: 5 things a day.  What this means is that, every day, I take five con­crete steps for­ward (which, as always, I track in my desk diary). Today, one of these is writ­ing this blog post. Another will be get­ting exer­cise — a walk or maybe yoga. The ratio­nale: I know from expe­ri­ence that if I just keep this up things will even­tu­ally shift. For me, this is what faith is — a belief in cause and effect borne out by experience.

The sec­ond: 100 pitches. (In case you didn’t guess, this would be the macro.)  Look­ing for work is really tir­ing, the more so, the longer you do it. Using this met­ric feels like a way to turn it into a game, to imbue it with the qual­i­ties of curios­ity, play, and fun. What is a pitch exactly? That’s up to me. Reach­ing out to a poten­tial client, draft­ing a mag­a­zine query — these are two exam­ples, but I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

But even as I take up the met­rics tool, I’m also aware of its lim­its. For me, it’s always the means to a goal, not the goal in itself. I think of met­rics as the propul­sive push a plane needs for liftoff. Once you’re air­borne the job is done. Met­rics fall away.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Metrics to the rescue

  1. okay. now you have moti­vated me! I am busy set­ting Aaron goals for the sum­mer (read­ing x num­ber of books, write x num­ber of com­po­si­tions, do x pages of math) now I real­ize I need some for myself!
    Lisa recently posted…Walk, Mem­oryMy Profile

  2. Thanks again for an excel­lent post.

    It reminded me of a bit of self-reflection that struck me a few weeks ago while I was dri­ving. I real­ized that, gen­er­ally, I place a high value on com­ple­tion. This is a good thing in that I gen­er­ally com­plete what I start. It is a bad thing when com­plet­ing the task becomes so absob­ing that I lose sight of the jour­ney, the “how I feel in the mov­ing,” as you say so well. And its bad when the lack of com­ple­tion — some­times due to forces beyond my con­trol — affects me.

    Best wishes on the path ahead.

    • That so res­onates with me, Matthew — I came to this real­iza­tion around my monthly Life Exper­i­ments, when I had the epiphany that accom­plish­ing the spe­cific goals I’d set out to wasn’t really the point — the goals were in ser­vice to some­thing larger. THAT was the point. :-)

      As for cop­ing with forces beyond our con­trol, find­ing ways to deal with them more skill­fully was prob­a­bly the main impe­tus to start­ing this blog (Hello, Great Recession!)

      As always, so nice to hear from you; thanks for stop­ping in.
      amy gut­man recently posted…Met­rics to the rescueMy Profile

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