How Metrics Are Ruining Your Life

(Or, why I stopped tracking my runs)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with metrics. They can be quite useful. The problem is with how we use them.

Tracking ones progress — personally or professionally — is important, but we’ve collectively developed a psychosis around the need to track everything, which isn’t helpful and steals the enjoyment from most of the things we do. These are the 3 most common misuses of metrics:

  • Inflating the importance of something simply because it’s trackable (tracking for tracking’s sake)
  • Believing that the most important part of a task or activity is the part that’s trackable (the only parts that matter are the ones you can track)
  • De-valuing events and interactions that don’t fit into a metric (if I can’t track it, I don’t know what to do with it)

The result being that everything becomes transactional instead of relational. Let’s look at a few examples.

If it’s trackable, it’s important, right?

Some things are beneficial to track, some aren’t. How discerning are we about what we’re tracking?

“Out of curiosity, what are the numbers for [you name it… downloads per document, # of emails/phone calls made, rolls of TP used, distribution of expenses, calories consumed, miles run, etc.] this month? Awesome. Let’s update this every month from now on.”

Why? To what end? Is this helping you make better decisions on an ongoing basis? If “yes,” then ok. If “no,” this is just busy work and should not go on the to-do list. You’re busy enough, right? Stop tracking things that aren’t helping you make better decisions.Running

I began tracking my runs — distance, pace, etc. — because I could… and because I thought it was a good thing for me to do in order to keep track of my progress.

The only parts I need to pay attention to are the ones I can track.

This is when you take something that’s good to know (e.g., which marketing and sales activities contribute to revenue: keep doing these things!) and decide that they’re the only parts that matter (“No more chit-chatting with customers on the phone.  We have no proof that treating them like people contributes to revenue!“).

We’re talking about the difference between teachers helping kids understand a topic or concept inside and out vs. schools coaching kids on how to get a good score on the standardized test. Let’s be honest, since revenue is (erroneously) tied to test scores, we’re all about the metrics — to the detriment of learning.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. ~ Albert Einstein

We’re talking “another notch on the bedpost” vs. amazing sex. We’re talking about focusing so much on how many carbs/proteins/fats you’re eating that you can’t even enjoy the food in your mouth. The classic quantity over quality mistake. Let’s be real: the trackable parts are generally NOT the parts that matter most.

Once I had a good baseline for my runs, each subsequent run had to at least measure up to my baseline, if not exceed it — even if I was tired, somewhat dehydrated, hadn’t eaten as well as usual, or for any number of other reasons… wasn’t physically up to it. You know what? Sometimes, for no clearly identifiable reason, your body needs a break, but I was working against my own metrics. I wasn’t listening to my body. I was listening to my app instead. << This is how most injuries occur.

I don’t know where to log this… it must not be a good use of my time.

When goals revolve around (and only around) things that are quantifiable, we de-value those things that are not quantifiable — like, taking a moment to treat a customer like an individual/person, generally being pleasant, or spending 30 minutes in a hammock — because we have measurable tasks to perform (and are considered a failure if we’re not focused on meeting those goals).

This is that dangerous place where we neglect relationships that matter to us, or fill every spare minute of our vacation so we never really relax, or count the day as a failure because we “didn’t get anything done.”

You know all those inspirational posters that talk about learning to dance in the rain or those moments that take your breath away? They’re talking about the un-trackable parts of your life. The things you miss when you’re checking-in with your app. When you hear the word “presence,” it’s talking about paying attention to the parts of your life that you’re not measuring. The parts where you’re listening, watching, absorbing, embracing, thinking, stopping, noticing.

Now, I leave my phone at home when I run. I don’t listen to music or training apps. I listen to the birds, traffic, bugs, wind rustling through the trees, the hellos of the other runners and dog walkers I pass. I veer from my originally decided upon path. I walk when I feel the need. Pick up trash when it’s there. I look forward to running more than I did before and feel much more energized & satisfied when I get done. And isn’t that the point? 

Knowing where you are and how you’re performing — by the numbers — can be beneficial, but the ways in which we’re currently using metrics largely isn’t.

We’ve nearly perfected the art of measuring everything. Now customers are less happy, relationships are less fulfilling, and lives are less progressive — we’re missing something. Something fundamental. And it’s all the stuff we can’t measure.

Go forth and be present.










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