I don’t know about you, but there are days – especially in the lazy days of summer! – when I really struggle. It’ll be approaching 4-o’clock and I’ll be wondering where the time has gone and what I have to show for close to a day’s work (and then panic at the thought that I only have a few hours left to “catch up” before my daughters get back from nursery).
There are times when I feel so swamped and buried in the “stuff” that I am terrified that I’m not actually moving forward in any meaningful way, and wonder if I am doing enough. And it’s during these moments of (mini) crises that I go back to my data.
See, a while ago (7 years to be exact), I got sick of wondering and wanted to know. I remembered a fantastic New York Times article (I highly recommend reading) that talked about the data-driven life. So I started to track my stats. I set myself daily, weekly, and quarterly targets and then tracked how I was using my time against those targets (in the early days, I used Excel, now I use Toggl and can’t recommend it enough).
And doing so changed everything. It gave me a concrete and objective picture of where my time was actually being invested. I could look back at a day, a week, a year, and see exact percentages and numbers of minutes being invested in business development, marketing, speaking, admin, etc. And I could use those stats to hold myself accountable against the targets I had set.
Simple and powerful. And most important: objective.
Because, the thing is, we are often the worst at assessing ourselves. And we often get it wrong when we are guesstimating or appraising off the top of our heads. We suffer from recency bias. And availability bias. And self-preservation bias. We judge our performance based on what has just happened, what we can recall (and we forget a LOT), and we tell ourselves stories to make ourselves feel better (“I have been working soooooo hard and soooooo much!“).
But the reality is often different to what we imagine. When I started objectively measuring what I was doing each day, what I learned surprised me. It still does. In some instances, I was way ahead of my game (a few years ago, I was having a really bad week so wanted to see where I was going off track… and you know what? I wasn’t off track at all. I had hit 50% of my targets for the YEAR by May!). And in other cases, I was doing far less than I thought (when I was starting my first business, I was making shockingly fewer calls to partners and clients than I thought I was. No wonder things weren’t moving as quickly as I wanted back then).
The data changes everything: practically, emotionally, and energetically.
When we are ahead, wouldn’t it be great to know that? We can breathe a little easier, we can stop stressing (a bit) about how much always needs to be done, and we can maybe even celebrate our successes or pat ourselves on the back (crazy, I know!).
And when we are behind, isn’t the data morale boosting in a counterintuitive way too? If we aren’t seeing progress, isn’t it better to use the data to tell us whether that’s because we’re not investing enough time on the important things or if it’s because we’re spending too much time on “low value” things? Isn’t it better to know if the flaw is with the process or with the execution?
The data gives you answers. The data helps uncover solutions. And the data makes it easier to know, instead of guess.
Business and success and growth don’t happen by guesswork. And that’s the beauty of the data-driven life: you swap the confusion of wondering with the power of knowing. And knowing is half the battle.