“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
― H. James Harrington
In on our last post, we talked about forming habits—defining what a habit is and discussing some negative habits that we should stop doing, but more importantly, learning some good habits that we should start doing every day. Now that you’ve got a good idea of what kind of habits you need to start nurturing in your life, it’s time to talk about how to track those habits in order to achieve your goals.
As the saying goes, “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.” This is true for the existing habits that you have as well as any new ones you would like to add. By using some kind of measuring tool you will make it clear what’s actually getting done each day as you work towards forming good habits and the goals that they are linked to. Take the time to measure your habits and activities every day, it will help you to clearly see what’s working for you and what needs to change to help you reach your vision. Don’t just take our word for it – others have written on this subject as well: Why You Should Be Tracking Your Habits – And How To Do It Well
In our post about Vision and Goal Setting, we talked about becoming aware of your current reality and the gap between where you are and where you would like to be. Measuring tools are helpful in keeping you honest as you set goals. If you are not clear on your goals try reverse goal setting. With the right tools, you can begin to measure your consistency with your new habits and ensure that what you mentally “feel” you achieve is in fact your reality. We are all good at “fudging” what we’ve accomplished, especially if nothing is actually written down and measured.
“The measures themselves are easily distorted to suit reporting purposes.”
― John Seddon
To help you get started we’d like to talk about some specific practical measuring tools for keeping track of your habit. Ideally, you should be using these tools to measure the good habits you already have and the ones you want to implement—don’t spend time tracking your negative habits. As we mentioned before, if you want to eliminate a bad habit, just try and replace it with a good one and measure that, rather than focusing too much on the negative one. James Clear has written about this in “How To Break A Bad Habit And Replace It With A Good One”:
“[B]ad habits address certain needs in your life. And for that reason, it’s better to replace your bad habits with a healthier behavior that addresses that same need. If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them, then you’ll have certain needs that will be unmet and it’s going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.”
General Ideas for Habit-Measuring Tools
Paper – Yes, good old fashioned paper! In today’s digital world, sometimes it seems like everything is tied to a screen, a computer or an app – but real, physical paper isn’t obsolete (yet). Paper works really well because writing something down has a more lasting neurological effect than using a computer or an app. The mere physical action of writing by hand forms a deeper engagement as we create a stronger neural pathway, helping us to both remember and learn better, and the information is much more likely to be retained.
The downside of using paper as your main habit-tracking system is that it may not be convenient. You might not want to carry a physical notebook around with you all the time, so there could be a lot of times when you forget to bring it with you. Or, if you are using sheets of loose paper, without the proper organization system you could potentially lose the information that you record and it can be difficult to refer back to unless filed systematically.
Spreadsheet – If you’re a visual person, creating a spreadsheet using the Dot System can be a great way to instantly keep track of your daily habits. List the habits that you want to keep track of, and then just tick off (by filling in a dot with a ballpoint pen) whether you’re achieving it each day. You’ll see more about my dot system below. Although Microsoft excel has been around for years it’s no longer the go-to format for everyone—instead you could also other programs like Access (for Windows) or Bento (for Mac).
One “plus” to using spreadsheets is that with Excel, you can get a little more funky by using the additional functionality such as sort, sum, marco’s and creating exceptions (eg Weekends). Also, having a percentage that’s calculated on each your inputs works as a motivation – because everyone understands percentages as a very clear, simple measure of either success or failure (depending on where you set the bar).
Smartphone Apps — There are several apps available out there to help you to track your daily habits—such as Habit Bull, Balanced, Coach.me, or Way of Life — there are too many available to list them all. These are all simple apps that enable you to choose specific activities (such as write in my journal, meditate, go to the gym, etc.) and then track how often you are actually completing these tasks. They will also give you little reminder notifications to help you stay on track with meeting your goals within a specific time frame. In a world where we are glued to our smartphones, notifications from these apps to go do something healthy may be just what we need to help stay motivated in changing our habits.
Evernote — Although Evernote isn’t quite the same as a spreadsheet or an app in that it won’t be able to visualise your data with graphs or charts, the biggest pro to using a program like Evernote is that once you create an account, you have access to your notes from any of your devices—computer, smartphone, web, etc. This makes it easy to always have your list of goals/habits readily accessible. Evernote also enables sharing of your files with others, which is good for accountability (if you’re part of a workout team, for example, or if you and your coworkers are all working together towards some specific goals for your business or personal lives).
Calendar — It can be helpful to use an actual, physical calendar to mark your habits and whether or not you’ve achieved your goals for that day or week. For example, when training for a marathon, a runner may mark their workouts each day in the weeks leading up to the race, giving them a clear timeline to see if they’re staying on track with their workout habits. (How many miles they are running each day, what kind of cross training workouts they’re doing throughout the week, etc.) If you are watching your food intake, then a calendar on the fridge is front of mind.
Although there are a lot of options out there, it’s best to keep your resources in one place if possible. Once you begin to measure your performance, pick the habit-tracking method that works best for you and try to use just that one. If you have to open a lot of different programs or notebooks, you’re less likely to actually keep track of it all. The more things you have to download or switch between, the harder it becomes mentally, and thus less likely it will get done.
If we lose up to 40% productivity by switching tasks, then we are both unproductive and less likely to complete them all. Don’t make habit-tracking another big, time-consuming chore; it should be an easy and effective task.
The key is to keep it simple. If you’re a hard-copy type of person, then try to keep all your habit tracking in a single notebook. If you’re digitally minded, then try to keep everything to just one app, program, or document. There isn’t a right or wrong option—there’s only what works for you and what doesn’t.
An In-Depth Look at My Own Tools
Now that we’ve talked about a few general ideas for habit tracking, let’s take a little more in-depth look at some of the tools that I have personally used to assist with my habit forming.
The hint’s in the name: With this journal, you take just 5 minutes at the start of each day to write down 3 things you are grateful for, 3 things that would make today great, and a daily affirmation (this is a positive statement about your identity, about who you want to be that day). Then, in the evening or before you go to bed, you reflect back over your day and write down 3 great things that happened to you and one thing you could have done that would have made your day better.
Tam Pham over at The Hustle has reviewed the 5-Minute Journal, and written about the details and specifics of incorporating this little 180-day journal into your life. The main idea behind this journal is that through taking just a few minutes each day to write a few lines about your day you will automatically give more intention and purpose to your daily activities. When you actually put into words what you need to do to be happy that day—what you need to do to live out your vision and complete your goals—your mind will be actively thinking about doing those things, and they will be more likely to happen. Henriette Klauser wrote a book about this very concept called Write it Down, Make it Happen and others have reinforced her ideas, such as Lacey Stone over at Motto in an article about the power of writing down your goals. Even Forbes has written about Why You Should Be Writing Down
There are some awesome quotes throughout the 5-Minute Journal (a different one for every day, in fact!) to help you stay motivated during your week. The 5-Minute Journal also includes “weekly challenges”—for example, one of the weekly challenges asks you to take time to do whatever your favourite activity was when you were 7 years old.
Really, to me the only downside with this journal is that there are not enough of these mini-challenges. There are a few – smile more today, play a favourite song, but I think they could do with adding a few more challenges that would really push you to step outside of your normal routine.
To get a copy click here. There is also an app for it.
“The level of your self-control is measured as the difference between how you act when you have nothing and how you react when you have everything.”
― Israelmore Ayivor
A gratitude journal is similar to the 5-minute journal; it’s essentially just a cut down version of it, but may have actually preceded it. I first heard about starting a gratitude journal from Shawn Achor and his amazing TED Talk on happiness. Currently at over 14million views, this simple talk changed my whole world. In his talk, he discusses how we are hard-wired to look for negative things—this dates back to our development of the croc-brain called the amygdala, which was our primal way of dealing with extremely basic emotions such as “fight or flight,” the need for food, the urge for reproduction, and the basic urge for survival. As humans and society has evolved, we rely less on this part of the brain but it’s still a dominant factor in many things we do. Shawn’s principle, as he discusses in the TED Talk, is that to counteract every 1 negative thought that goes through our brain, we need 3 more positive thoughts in their place. A Harvard study on “the ideal praise-criticism ratio” backs up this idea. Of course, this is just a theory—while this mindset may provide you with a helpful approach, the Wikipedia entry on this subject points out some criticism to the mathematical validity of this ratio.
Regardless of the specifics of the ratio, however, the idea can be used to help nurture positive thinking—and the Gratitude Journal stems from this idea. Writing out 3 positive things every day takes less than 1 minute – all you need to do is put it by your bedside and do it as soon as you get into bed. It’s one of the easiest and most influential (on you) habits that you can start right now.
“It’s probably better and more accessible to measure change readiness rather than change progress.”
― Pearl Zhu
Rockerfella Dot System
This was taught to me by serial entrepreneur Andy Drish and has been really helpful over the past 12 months as I have added more layers to my routines. Currently I track 11 daily routines (some are Mon-Friday) and some are just a few times a week (No alcohol is 4 times per week).
In addition to the habits that are tracked daily, at the bottom I also have 4 weekly rituals to track and then 4 monthly metrics to track. Once a month, I print off a new sheet, updating any rituals that I have added or deleted. The tracking process is so simple—I just make a little dot each day when I have accomplished the habit that I am tracking. No more slacking off, no more fudging the figures, and no more lying to myself about how often I get these important tasks done.
Here is the summary of habits that I track using this system:
- Meditate – 15 minutes every day (currently over 400 days in a row and counting)
- Gym – 6 days a week (sometimes 7). Only time I miss is if I am travelling or sick.
- Gratitude Journal – 7 Days a week without fail – Takes just 60 seconds
- Set Top 3 Daily Goals – 5 business days a week – Get the important things done 1st
- Visualization technique – 7 Days a week – 1 minute at bedtime
- No Alcohol – 3-4 Days per week (Usually midweek at home)
- 5M Journal – 7 Days a week – Takes less than 5 minutes to write out when you are in the flow
- 25M Tomato – I learned this cool trick recently – Keeps me more focused on my tasks
- Podcast Material – Can be ebooks or podcasts. 20 minute commute to and from work. I no longer listen to the radio or the news in any format. This has been a HUGE game changer for me. I first heard about the concept form philosopher Alain De Botton but it’s become a much more prevalent concept among smart entrepreneurs like Perry Marshall and others, plus it makes you smarter.
- 10 Minute visualization – New technique I learned from the groundbreaking book Pysco-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. His influential book was the basis for almost all sport psychology for the past 30+ years and he helped shaped how people can change their thought process.
- 25 Minutes of writing – To create a business, website and blog material you need to write often. Whilst I don’t consider myself a good writer, in the past 12 months I have practiced some copywriting and this helps shape some of my ideas into something legible at least.
So that’s the total round-up of the habits I track on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. I’m curious to know what you track and measure and how you do it.
Laura Posey over at Simple Success Plans has the following advice about reaching goals…
If you want to hit your goals, you can’t just stop at breaking them into smaller pieces. You have to take it a step further and decide what you will change in your life that will make your goals a reality. And the things to change are the “systems” that run your life.
If you have a weight goal, you might change your eating or exercise systems.
If you have a revenue goal, you might change your prospecting, closing or marketing systems.
When you’re ready to align your vision, goals and system change on one sheet of paper, you can get a sample one-page plan here.
This one-page plan is a “blueprint” that can help you focus and organize your biggest and best ideas, cut out distractions, and start changing your life.
“Impressive technological development makes us capable of measuring almost everything, but measurement error problems still remain.”
― Eraldo Banovac
The tools and ideas that we’ve talked about in this post are just a start in learning the best ways to track your habits. If you don’t see anything here that strikes your fancy, there are plenty of other apps and methods in tracking habits. Look around a bit, see what other people are doing, and then tweak their methods to find the method that works best for you.
For some more ideas, check out this list of 17 Best Tools and Apps for Building New Habits and Goals from American Express.
As more and more people become interested in tracking their habits and begin to see the value of measuring progress toward reaching goals, it means that more and more measuring tools are coming out on the market all the time. This is great because it gives you so many options to choose from to best track your habits, but it can also be a little overwhelming—with so many different apps and methods, it might take some searching around to find the method that works best for you. Just remember to keep it simple! Whether it’s writing in a journal or recording activities through an app, habit tracking should be easy, simple, and shouldn’t usurp a lot of your time. It’s not so much about how you’re doing it; what’s key is simply that you are measuring your habits and keeping track of your progress in a clear, accessible way.
“It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.” ― Sigmund Freud
Now that we’ve talked a little bit about the hows and whys of measuring your habits and keeping track of your success towards your goals, in our next post we’ll talk about reaching out to others—creating a circle of accountability that can help you on your journey towards actualising your vision. Using measuring tools to track your habits is just a start; having help from others in the form of a strong accountability system can do wonders to help you reach your goals.