Measure & Manage Your Numbers

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Some famous business guru – probably Peter Drucker – said that. Phrased more positively, the idea is that you can only manage what you can measure.

With that in mind, I’ve been measuring and tracking a number of my own “numbers”. Yeah yeah, usually this means financial numbers. I do that too, but what I want to talk about here are other numbers. All sorts of numbers.

I have been measuring and tracking my bodyweight and bodyfat percentage for just over 2 months now. I’m seeing improvement, and in addition to my wife’s positive comments, I find this to be a very good way to keep me motivated and to let me know exactly where I stand.

That knowledge of where I stand is important. The way to get to where you want is to know where you want to go, take action, see what difference that has made, adjust, and take action again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The critical part in there is knowing where you are so that you can see what difference your actions are making (or aren’t making). You need to have some way of measuring in order to do that.

So, what personal numbers am I tracking these days? Well, in addition to the built-in tracking for my bodyfat ultrasound device & software, I have also been using trackthisfor.me since a good friend introduced me to it. On there I have been tracking for the past week:

  • hours of sleep each night
  • time between waking up and eating breakfast
  • # of PAGG pill doses I take each day (it should be 4, but I forget a dose here and there)
  • bodyweight (because I can measure this more frequently than I can measure my bodyfat … just a matter of time to do it)
  • ml of clear liquid consumed per day
  • portions of protein consumed per day
  • portions of dairy consumed per day
  • portions of carbs consumed per day
  • minutes early/late to my day job
  • minutes early/late leaving my day job

As more things come to me, I’ll add them in and track them.

I also recently ordered a blood pressure monitor that will (a) let me measure my blood pressure and resting heart rate at home, and (b) will automatically upload the data to an online data repository to collect my history. What can I do with that history? I will be able to see long-term trends, and I will have something to give to my doctor at my checkups. Yeah, he’ll do his own reading too, but at least he’ll have this additional info in the future for diagnosis as I get older.

In some cases the absolute value or the short-term trend will tell me something meaningful – and on that meaning take some sort of action. In other cases, the daily (or so) variations won’t give me anything meaningful immediately – it will be the onset of a particular trend or out-of-norm value that will spark some sort of action.

The key thing though is that I will have knowledge about when to take what action and why.

It’s true in all realms and endeavors that you need measurements of some kind to manage things effectively. Yeah, measurements can be qualitative as well as quantitative, but with technology it’s easier to do the quantitative way for a lot of things.

For example, while it is meaningful, it is hard to gauge and remember the degree of emphasis when my grandaunt or my mom tell me I’m fat. It’s a lot easier to measure and record my bodyweight and bodyfat %.

There are two hard parts to all this that no machine or technology can do for you though.

  1. Defining what to measure and record
  2. Defining how often to measure and record

The first is important and difficult because what you measure and record will depend on what it is you want to achieve. What you measure depends on what your goals are, how you aim to achieve them and, to some degree, what kind of knowledge you have about the matter.

The second is important because not every variation is meaningful. There’s noise in any real-world measurement, particularly when it comes to biological systems and living life in a social & natural environment. So it depends on us as individuals to figure out how often to measure so that we get more signal than noise. This is not only because it’s more work to wade through noise noise noise but because negative news impacts us emotionally. Getting hit many times with negative noise will have a strong impact on your psyche even though it actually means nothing.

On that last point, it’s like checking your stock investment portfolio every day. A lot of that movement is meaningless noise, but each time it dips, you feel a bit of emotional pain. Add it up over the years, and you’ll have taken a significant toll for nothing meaningful at all.

I’ll say more about these two difficulties in later posts as I continue on with measuring and monitoring my own numbers.

Let me know if you measure and track anything for yourself and why. I’d like to learn from your experiences and expertise as well!

Until next time, have fun out there and kick ass!

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