To become better, we should count something. What is interesting to count?
You may have heard of SMART goals: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
For some SMART goals, it's easy to figure out what to measure. If you want to save $500 by the end of March, then you monitor your savings account to see if the balance becomes $500 higher by the end of March. If you want to pay down your credit card by the end of the year, you check your monthly statements to see if the balance is down to zero. (Download a free SMART financial goal worksheet here.)
Score to compete and become better
I just finished reading Atul Gawande's 2007 book, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. (This was after reading, and enjoying, the book he wrote after this one, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.)
Better largely focused on observations on his area of expertise: surgery. Parts of the book were page-turners, at least for me. The chapter titled “The Score” centered around childbirth and obstetrics. (It was a bit saddening to read that obstetricians once weren't really highly thought of by other medical disciplines. The obstetrician that delivered our daughter was quick and decisive when complications arose. I owe my family's life to him and his team.)
I won't spoil what “The Score” is, but it's a simple, easy to calculate number developed by an anesthesiologist (!) that gives a benchmark of sorts as to how successful the delivery was. Just by recording this score (twice) after the delivery, it gave doctors something to compare each other against, and something to improve.
Count something to be a positive deviant
At the end of the book, Gawande broadens the scope briefly to suggest five ways to become a “positive deviant” — someone who is on the right end of the bell curve, well above the mean.
One of these suggestions is simply to count something of interest. “If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting,” he writes.
He claims that he started logging his transportation miles “for no real reason” but I suspect he did it in hopes of finding out something interesting. Finding some patterns, revealing blind spots, or finding some places to improve.
The spreadsheet is a bit surreal. It takes logging transportation detail to a whole new level. He breaks things down by day, and by six separate modes of transportation, and then calculates the percentage of each by mileage. Then, he does a cumulative calculation of the totals and the percentages.
But, sure enough, he found out some things just from this one month. Half of the days in January he didn't drive at all. Nearly a third of his miles were on foot. And he rode his bike precisely zero miles.
He's already used these insights (and others) to plan a way ahead. He's looking to work that driving percentage down even more. He's making his bike more accessible so that it's not so much of a pain to get at.
He's counting something of interest to him, and learning stuff that's interesting.
What other interesting things can we count?
I admit that this is a new concept to me, so I'm only counting very basic things currently:
- My weight. I step on the scale every few days, and listen to it groan.
- The number of books I've read this year. My goal is to read 25.
- Income/expenses. I'm doing this through Quicken and will do it with Personal Capital.
Here are a couple of things that I find interesting that I could count, but am not currently:
- Amount of purchases made with discounted gift cards. Getting discounted gift cards can be a smart way to get fairly good discounts, right off the top. For example, we get Petco gift cards for close to 20% off. I'd have to hone this measure a bit, since it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to maximize purchases just for its own sake. But maybe something that makes sure we're taking advantage of the good ones.
- Number of social shares, or number of days straight with at least one social share. I'm a bit sporadic with sharing others' great content on my social channels. I load up Buffer every once in a while, but it's not consistent. Measuring this number would indicate how well I'm keeping to this.
What are you counting that's interesting?