“What gets measured, gets managed.”
I remember that the more I was reading about successful people’s daily routines, habits and little tips on how to be more productive, the more I was noticing a tendency there.
They were all measuring their results one way or another. Be it online, offline, on a list, sharing it with an accountability partner, etc.
They weren’t talking much about this, but the fact that they took a moment to write down everything they did throughout the day (usually every evening or right after the activity), was enough for me to want to know more.
Nothing, of course, would have happened, if I hadn’t given this simple technique a try. And it turned out to be quite powerful.
It all started with my to-do list. Something I can’t live without these days.
Because if we look at it from another point of view, it’s a way of tracking the things that need to get done during the day, and then slowly crossing each off, until at the end of the day we examine how we’ve performed and what’s left.
But then I started making more detailed descriptions of different stuff I was doing daily. The written word is more powerful indeed. And knowing how much time something took you and the chance to compare it to the previous and the next few times you do it is priceless.
Nothing can give you such great feedback about your performance. And as a result, you can decide what changes you want to make in order to see an improvement. And then track that too.
The Benefits of Tracking Your Time, Life and Habits
When it comes to this, the first person I think of is Sebastian Marshal (whose blog is one of my favorites).
Here’s why he tracks his time every single day:
“I add things as it serves me. If something isn’t serving me any more, I delete it from my list.
But now, it’s super handy. Why do it every day? Well, honestly, I still forget a ton of things that are on my list if I don’t refer to the list.
Is it exhausting? Just the opposite actually, I get far more energy and time and life back from the tracking than I put into it.
If things get off-track, I can see where I’m doing good work, where I’m doing bad work, etc. If I wind up putting a lot of time into surfing the net, I notice fast. You can’t have 2-3 days in a row of spending 5-10 hours doing garbage and not notice it if you’re tracking your time. Again, filling this out took me six minutes MAX. That’s totally worth it to know where my time went, and to remember to do all the little things I want to do.
I love what I get back fro time tracking. Like, really love it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and it’s brought a hell of a lot of understanding and clarity and focus to my life. But again – it should serve you, it should get you to where you want to be. I don’t serve the tools, the tools serve me. It’s a powerful tool if you use it to get what you want…”
He continues in this post:
“One of the things I’ve gotten tremendous amounts of mileage out of it is tracking my time, habits, and life each day.
To put it simply – I now realize it’s impossible to understand how your life is going without some careful observation. There’s a lot of time each day, and knowing where that time goes, what you ate, what you did and didn’t do… it’s almost impossible to get a good picture of your life without some kind of measuring.
I definitely started small, and built up to where I am now. Don’t go crazy trying to track 20 things at once – it’s unlikely to work. Start small, then add a few once tracking the first group is second nature to you.”
7 Things I’m Measuring Daily
1. Tracking The Work I Get Done.
Working from home may be amazing, but there are also many distractions. And although I’ve created the perfect schedule for myself, I still benefit a lot from writing down everything that gets done.
This may vary, of course. But in the end I like seeing how many words I’ve written (for my blog/niche sites/guest blogs/books/freelancing), whether I’ve checked out writing job boards and gigs and applied for at least 1 or 2, the stuff I did in terms of affiliate marketing, making small changes to the sites, joining advertising networks, doing sponsored posts, exploring new options of monetizing a site, formatting, editing and publishing posts and eBooks, pitching bigger sites for long-term relationships, etc.
In this list I just write down the things I’ve done connected to work right after I’ve completed them.
I don’t include things like checking email (unless it’s a carefully thought-out email about something important that took me some time) or social media (the 2-minute Twitter breaks definitely don’t count as work).
So basically tracking my work includes only things that can bring me income, or help my current and future online businesses in some way.
How I do it?
I do nothing more than adding a new date in a Word document called “work” and listing the things I do under it.
I use no special software, apps or online tools, although I think they can help a lot.
2. I track what I eat.
That’s one of the new habits I’m doing.
Here’s what I say in the post:
“We hear about the benefits of journaling everything you do daily (in every area), but we don’t really realize the effect it has until we try it ourselves.
And it’s quite helpful, I’d say.
I’m always trying to change my eating habits and get fit, so this is quite useful for such goals.
Not only does it give you the bigger picture of what you eat, but you also become more aware of what you put in your mouth knowing that you’ll have to put it on paper later.
Guilt is a positive factor in this case. Because even if you’re not trying to control what you eat, you start feeling bad about it once you see it written.
So if you’ve tried other similar things but they haven’t worked, give this one a try.”
3. Tracking my water intake for the day.
Something I’ve been working on for some time now is drinking 2 liters a day.
For some it may be nothing, but I know many people that find a hard time drinking even 2-3 glasses per day.
I did my research long ago on the effect water has on our body. It turned out that our whole generation is suffering from chronic dehydration.
People just don’t think about water, although we know its benefits since childhood.
I also have my reasons to believe that the daily problems we complain about may be a result of that – headaches, stomach problems (especially with digestion), back pain, arthritis, etc.
Most often it’s the pain that occurs frequently. And taking medicines only alleviates the symptoms for some time, but is far from healing. A change in the lifestyle needs to be made. And drinking plenty of water (2,5 liters) is the solution.
Our body consists of 75% water and our brain – of 85, and if we don’t give it enough daily, it stores the old liquid and keeps it for later.
Also the older we get, the less amount of water we have in our cells. And the more we should drink.
I can go on about this topic for a long time. But let’s get back to tracking now.
The point is that since I started writing down my daily intake of water, it wasn’t a problem to consume it.
Usually it’s quite an effort as I’m not used to it. But including it in my to-do list and actually implementing it in my schedule worked wonders (I work on the computer 4 hours straight right after I wake up and found out that drinking water all the time during that period works great for me).
4. I keep track of my progress with new habits I’m trying to develop.
Ingraining a new behavior can be tricky. And if you don’t manage to stay consistent in the beginning, you’ll fail.
So I came to the conclusion that writing down the action you’ve taken daily (or even including it as a task on the top of your to-do list) helps a lot.
Often we can just forget about the habit and thus skip a day, which never ends good.
5. I track what I’m reading that helps me learn and grow.
I read all the time. All writers should. It’s inevitable.
But I don’t feel like it’s something I must do all the time.
And in order not to go without reading (which for me goes together with learning and growing), I’ve set the daily goal of consuming at least 1 or 2 long articles on a subject I’m benefiting from by writing stuff down and thinking of how I can put that into practice immediately.
Usually it’s stuff related to my work – articles on SEO, conversion optimization, using a new tool, promotion, using social media smarter, strategies on how to repurpose old content, getting traffic, trying completely new things with design, self-publishing or else, etc.
Or it may also be connected to self-improvement. And if it’s the motivational posts I usually read, that gets done in my free time. Here I’m talking about informative, insightful and practical step-by-step guides on how to be more productive, change habits, think outside the box, stuff about health, online business, finance, writing, etc.
These are actually the 2 types of reading I’ve been doing for the last few years, and which I’ll continue dedicating time to for the rest of my life (hopefully).
Not interested in novels anymore. Although Dan Brown’s work will always be a weak spot for me.
6. The time I wake up gets measured too.
It’s important for me to wake up really early as my whole day is way more productive and successful after that.
And in order to take this little habit more seriously, I keep track of it.
It doesn’t always happen at the time I want to, but every new morning is another opportunity to raise early.
7. Tracking when and for how long I work.
Not only is it important what I get done while working, but also when I start and finish and what amount of time I spend doing it.
It’s tracking, actually, that helped me find my most productive time – the first part of the day – which I now dedicate to my most serious work.
I’ve found out that I do my best when I get to work 15 minutes after I wake up, with a glass of water and a cup of coffee, and stay there for 4 hours without letting anything distract me.
Which means no communication, no email or social media, no noises and not thinking about what I’ll be doing later in the day or else that’s not connected to my work.
I’m laser focused and produce my best work.
8. Some things I track weekly.
- Gym workouts – they need to be 4 per week (maybe more, but not less), if I’m not traveling or else. I write down which body part I’ve trained and how long the cardio was.
- Overall performance – I haven’t quite made that a habit yet, but it’s an absolute must if you’re serious about personal development. Just like results should be evaluated daily in the end of the day, so should weeks, months and years. At least that’s what successful people are doing, and their achievements speak for themselves.
- Foreign language – it’s Dutch at the moment. I haven’t set a daily goal because I don’t want to push myself. But I learn a thing or two almost daily and spare a few minutes weekly to see how far I’ve come and to plan out something new for the next week.
It doesn’t need to be learning a new language, of course. But if there’s a new sport you want start doing, a hobby, something to learn or get better at, then you can track it weekly so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and still see progress.
How to Get Started with Tracking
1. Start small.
Like you should with every other new behavior you’re trying to ingrain.
2. Be consistent.
Doing it daily is a must. If you really have to skip a day, make sure you get back on track on the next one.
3. Find what works best for you (like I did).
It’s alright to see how others are doing this and do the same. But at some point you’ll realize that you’re just different and your daily schedule has other things in it that need to be considered.
So make changes until you find the version that’s ideal for your lifestyle.
4. Focus on 1-2 things.
Like Sebastian said, don’t start tracking 20 things. It just won’t work.
Here are some other practical tips he gives that helped him track his time, habits and life successfully and see progress:
“First, I highly recommend it. You’ll see improve your awareness of yourself, how you spend your time, your habits, and reach your goals faster if you do this.
Second, remember to start simple.
Third, get inspired by mine, but definitely start smaller. Start with some easy wins and one straightforward yes/no question. My version zero was just writing down an idea or two. Add things slowly once you get the first version under control.
Fourth, I recommend you aim for roughly a 70% success rate, not perfection.
Fifth, remember to customize to fit your goals.
Finally, I like to do at least a tiny review at the end of the day. “What did I do correctly today to move me towards my goals? If I did the day over, what would I do differently?” Those are great questions, I got them from Brian Tracy. A little review like that, some paying attention to your habits, and some paying attention to whether you’re working on your most important things in your life are all good places to potentially start.”
What Else Can You Track?
I mentioned the things I’m keeping track of. But there are many others (some of which I’ll start in the future) that can help you improve your life, be more productive and change yourself in general.
Here are some of them:
• the time you go to bed;
• total sleep;
• vitamins intake;
• money spent vs. money earned;
• checking email;
• your morning routine;
• watching TV (and other unproductive habits);
• planning your day/week/month;
• coffee intake;
• browsing the Internet purposelessly;
• negative thoughts;
• making your bed;
• cleaning and decluttering;
• time needed to get out of bed in the morning;
• review of short/long term goals;
• protein/carbs/fats intake;
• reciting affirmations.
I’m sure you’ll come up with other ideas in the process, but for now that’s more than enough to get you started with tracking, let you choose a great thing to track from tomorrow on, and to give you an inspiration boost as you now know the benefits.
What do you think? Is daily tracking worth it and will you give it a try? If yes, what will you start measuring first and why?
Full-time freelance writer. Lifestyle designer.
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