How to identify what to measure

My last post about metrics really got me thinking. Most GTD programs don’t really talk about improvements from a dead stop, they are more concerned about changing your process. But altering how you implement your process can have a huge impact.

Here is a suggestion on how to identify what to measure:

  1. What is causing you pain?
  2. What causes the pain to occur?

Step 1 is all about prioritization. Pain is bad. If something is causing you pain, you want to stop it. You need to stop it. So pick the thing/item/problem that is causing you the most pain. This is what you need to improve or fix.

Step 2 is looking at what is causing the pain to occur in the first place. Once you know the factors that are contributing to the pain, you can try to change them. If you are doing the right thing, the factors contribute less, and the pain should go down.

For example: Let us say I want to write more python code. My day job doesn’t involve much python, so I feel like I’m being left behind because all of the cool kids on reddit are talking about the fun they are having writing python code.

The pain: Not being able to write in the language I want to. The cause: Day job doesn’t use python.

Addressing the cause will affect the “pain”. If you get a different job (e.g. one that involves writing python code) then you have solved both problems.

But what if you can’t just switch jobs? Then you try experimenting with writing python code for your own personal use. Try writing it to solve scripting problems on your PC at work. If that makes you feel better, then you are moving in the right direction. If you try writing open source code in python in your after work hours, but it winds up stressing you out, then you are moving in the wrong direction. (Or you’ve identified that there might be a different problem than what you originally though there was!)

By tackling the sources of your pains, and applying small changes there, you can get a measure of where your efforts are going. Sometimes these measures are going to be cold hard numbers, and sometimes they are just going to be “feelings”. But either way, they are indicators of how you should change your processes and habits in order to become more successful.