Underrated secrets to long term success
- There are many ideas that leaders will often refer to as the key contributor to their success. One concept I often see overlooked is tracking
- No matter how much planning goes into a new project or campaign, there will always be hiccups during the execution of the plan
- To reach your goal, you need to constantly evaluate the progress you have made so far and assess whether there are any changes that need to be made
- To make these decisions you need the right information. In my opinion tracking your inputs and outputs is a good start to finding this information
Are you on the right track?
OK so you really want to have your next breakthrough in an area of your life – be it health, business, finances etc. You treat this like a project, you set yourself a goal, you are extremely motivated and are working hard at it every day. The goal might take 1 year to reach and you have set out a detailed plan on how you are going to achieve it. You are now two months in. You know yourself that you have been working hard every single day, and yet you stop to wonder:
- How close am I to the goal?
- I have 10 months left, am I going to achieve my goal at this rate?
- Is what I’m currently doing working for me?
- Do I need to revise my original plan that I thought of at the beginning of this?
- Am I missing something?
There are many different elements that make up the so called “keys to success” in whatever of life you choose. Most people will know that setting a goal is very important, they will also know that having a strategy/plan to achieve that goal is also very important. What some people don’t realise is that more often than not, the original plan put in place will almost certainly always change throughout the life of the project!
This seems to make sense intuitively right? When you set your overall goal and are working out your plan of attack you everything is based on analysis rather than real life experience. When going into battle, you can strategize about the best approach. However, all of this may change when you engage in real battle with the enemy. This is because you are making a lot of assumptions in the planning stages.
For example, you want to lose 10 kg in 6 months. You haven’t started working on it yet but your plan is something as follows:
- Eat 1800 calories a day
- Exercise 5 times a week
Both of these make sense, however, you are making a few assumptions here, specifically you are assuming that:
- You will lose weight by eating 1800 calories a day
- You will lose enough weight to reach your 10 kg weight loss goal in 6 months
- You are able to consistently exercise 5 days a week
- Exercising 5 days a week is not too much for you
- Exercising 5 days a week is not too little for you
- Many more
Making assumptions is not a bad thing, everyone HAS to make assumptions at some point before a project begins. Generally speaking these assumptions will be tested once you execute your plan. There are many things that could go wrong once you are in the midst of things:
- You don’t seem to be losing weight
- You seem to be gaining weight
- You lose weight at first but then weight loss stalls
- Due to scheduling you can only exercise 3 times a week
- Due to stress and long hours spent in the office you can only exercise once a week
- You injure your back during the warm up and cannot exercise for 4 weeks
All of these and many more could happen; this means that you have to constantly re-evaluate your original plan as you progress through the project. This is because your planned roadmap will always differ from the actual roadmap:
In my opinion, the two questions that need to be asked at each ‘checkpoint’ or ‘milestone’ of a project are:
- How much progress have I made so far?
- Is there anything I need to change?
The first question relates to your position relative to your goal, the second question relates to what you have been doing to get to this point and whether you need to change anything in order to continue making progress. In order to answer these 2 questions, you need information. You need accurate and updated data to base your decision on.
This is where tracking becomes invaluable to the success of your project.
“What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated.” – John E Jones
Tracking is in my opinion, one of the key ingredients to long term success. If you don’t measure something, you cannot improve it. If you measure something and feed it back (to your coach for example) it gets done well and if you reward yourself for each little win, this will build momentum towards your goal!
A few examples highlighting the usefulness of tracking:
- If you wanted to increase your daily steps taken. How do you improve your steps taken if you don’t measure how much you are currently walking? This is where a Fitbit might come in handy. If you know that you are walking 3000 steps every day, then by simply aiming for 3500 every day you have been successful in improving your steps.
- When dieting, it’s harder to “eat less” if you don’t know how much you are eating. If someone instructed you to reduce your eating by 10% every day, how much would that be if you are not measuring your daily food intake?
- When driving from point A to B. The only way to do it so to have an awareness of where you are currently (Point A) and then driving towards a certain direction, checking again where you are, maybe seeing how far you are from Point B and making sure that you are still on track to get to point B. You wouldn’t drive with your eyes closed and just hope for best right? We often take for granted that by keeping our eyes on the road, we are constantly checking – where we are now, and where we are going.
Tracking measures the variables for your current status, that’s your starting point or “baseline”. From there you can improve it or change it accordingly. In my opinion, this would be the same for all aspects of your life, if you wanted to improve your eating, write down what you are eating. If you want to improve your finances, write down what you are earning and spending. Only then can you make adjustments accordingly.
One of my favourite motivational speakers Jim Rohn also stressed the importance of “taking a picture” of your current situation. It is also known as “the truth”. Only then will you know how good or how bad the situation really is. Only then can you begin to correct the mistakes that have led you to where you are today.
This is NOT saying you will succeed in everything just by writing it down and twiddling your thumbs but it is in my opinion a very important first step to take. One of the greatest motivators in the world is to start something and make progress!
In his famous book How to win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie tells a story of how throwing down a challenge and recording the number of heats for shift workers increased productivity! Here is an extract from the book which I encourage you to read in your own time:
Charles Schwab had a mill manager whose people weren’t producing their quota of work.
“How is it,” Schwab asked him, “that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?”
“I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I’ve coaxed the men, I’ve pushed them, I’ve sworn and cussed, I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. But nothing works. They just won’t produce.”
This conversation took place at the end of the day, just before the night shift came on. Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked: “How many heats did your shift make today?” “Six.”
Without another word, Schwab chalked a big figure six on the floor, and walked away. When the night shift came in, they saw the “6” and asked what it meant.
“The big boss was in here today,” the day people said. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor.”
The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out “6” and replaced it with a big “7.”
When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big “7” chalked on the floor. So the nightshift thought they were better than the day shift did they? Well, they would show the nightshift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering “10.” Things were stepping up.
Shortly this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant.
How to win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
What exactly do we track?
Ok so now that we know that measuring things is important, the next question is what exactly do we measure? Surely the length of your toenails isn’t critical to reaching your fitness goals for 2017 right?
This is where I would like you to view things in an input vs output perspective:
Note that the above are only a few examples rather than an extensive list. Inputs are EVERYTHING that you put into your daily life whereas outputs are the RESULTS that you achieve using your inputs. You have to understand that you are the CEO of your own body. The choices you make each day have made you the person that you are today.
At the end of the day, we have much more control over our lives than we realise. When I was an overweight fat kid I CHOSE to be fat. Why? Because eating more makes you fat, and I can confidently say that I never “accidentally” ate anything – everything I ate was by choice! No one forced me to eat more. Of course I didn’t want to be fat, but there was obviously a difference in the thinking between the conscious and the subconscious mind.
Going back to the example of dieting. If you are measuring your results – weight loss etc. and you are not happy with them, you need to change the inputs!
- Is your weight not moving in the direction you want it to? Maybe eat less!
- Is your strength going down? Maybe sleep more!
I say maybe because no one knows for certain what inputs will give you the exact results that you are after. At the end of the day, many of the inputs and outputs are related to one another, so the only way you will become successful is if you track them and change one variable at the time.
This is essentially just formalising a framework that is probably common sense to most people. You try something, see if it works, if it doesn’t then you’ll need to try something different. If it does work, then keep doing what you have been doing.
The idea of measuring input is particularly important for finding something that works, but also to make adjustments once it stops working. You need to be able to consistently measure your input, so that
- If it is working – you know exactly what is working so you can continue doing it, or do more of it
- If it isn’t working – you know exactly what isn’t working so you can change it
With all of this being said, when it comes down to what to specifically track there is also an element of practicality. For losing weight, tracking your ingested calories is an input related to weight, but so would 9999 other things including tracking how much you fidget (because fidgeting expends calories) or how often you chew a piece of gum.
At the end of the day you need to get the best bang for your buck. Track enough in order to get results, but not so much that it becomes a burden which makes it unsustainable in the long run.
A few examples of input related measures for dieting are:
- Amount of Sleep
- Water intake
Note: This is NOT an exhaustive list of everything that you can track. I also don’t track ALL of these measures at any given moment. It depends on what my goal is, if I am trying to drop water weight for a competition I will track how much water I am drinking etc.
For training inputs, I usually write down sets, repetition and weights for all exercises which allows me to track volume and intensity for each of the lifts.
Measuring the output is important so that you know you are moving towards your goal and it also gives you an idea of how fast you are going. For the purpose of dieting, weighing yourself is very common but even looking at yourself in the mirror is a form of measuring output. Measuring output is not only about results relating to your goal. If your goal is to become stronger, strength is definitely an output you want to measure. However, other output measures such as fatigue can also guide you on how hard to train etc.
A few examples of output related measures for dieting are:
- Body measurements
- Progress pictures
- Body fat % Measurements
- Quality of sleep
- Stress levels
- Hunger Levels
A few examples of output related measure for training are:
- Sets, repetitions and weights (this is both an input and an output)
- Level of fatigue
- Level of soreness
You need to measure both inputs and outputs throughout the project to assess your progress. If you don’t review your results you are essentially blind when it comes to your progress and it will be much harder to know where to go next.
As important as I personally think tracking input/output is, I won’t deny that there are plenty of people who have achieved great success by just “winging it”. I’m sure you have heard of a friend of a friend who eats nothing but junk food and is losing 1 kg each week, or the genetic freak just trains chest and biceps at the gym but is bigger and stronger than everyone there. There are people who don’t need to know how much they are spending because they are earning so much that they will never outlive their savings. For these lucky people, they have found or rather accidentally stumbled on a combination of inputs that seems to work and give them the right outputs.
However, the question is: What if that which is currently working for you, stops working? Wouldn’t you agree that if this were to happen, having information or knowledge about what works/what doesn’t work for you is useful in deciding what your next steps should be?
I am not saying that tracking is an absolute essential ingredient for future success. I just think it makes things EASIER for you in the long term, it will motivate you and keep you going in the right direction. Especially when things go south as nothing ever goes according to plan.
Measuring results, improves results!