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 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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