What effective people measure -- and you can too

measure by measure photo courtesy flickr user hans s

(MoneyWatch) Whenever people ask me for time management advice, my first tip is to try keeping a time log. A week has 168 hours, but I'm guessing you have no idea how you're spending many of them. I certainly don't. Keeping track helps us know where those hours go.

Lately, I've been having dozens of people keep track of their time for time makeovers (if you want to track your time, you can download a very low-tech spreadsheet from my website; many companies make much more advanced apps for this purpose). I've also been keeping a food journal, in an attempt to lose 5 stubborn pounds that don't seem to be going anywhere. I've been logging my weight. I've been logging my minutes and miles run. I've been logging my blog views. I've been logging how many words I write in my novel per week.

Does all this tracking seem narcissistic? Perhaps, but I think there are several virtues to the well-measured life:

1. Logging keeps you accountable. I like to run for its own sake, but jotting down my mileage, and seeing the numbers add up toward my annual goal, is an additional source of pleasure.

2. Accountability boosts willpower. As soon as I started keeping a food journal, I found the wherewithal to stop eating 6 macaroons per day -- a habit which, along with a heavy pour on the red wine, might have been contributing to those stubborn 5 lbs. I did not want to write those 6 macaroons down. Or the third glass of Shiraz.

3. Logging makes you mindful. After tracking my time for the past few days, I realized that, when my kids turn on a TV show in the evening, I have a tendency to check my inbox (but not do anything with it) or push the mail pile around, flipping through the Athleta catalog, even though I do not need more yoga pants. These activities are pointless. Better to sit on the couch and snuggle with my little ones instead. So tonight, I watched an episode of Diego with a 5-year-old on my lap. In two years, he won't be willing to do that. Tonight, thanks to the time log, I had that chance.

4. Metrics make you better. Thanks to my daily reader counts, I can see what blog titles -- on very similar topics -- get the most clicks. If I have a message to share, I'm starting to learn what headlines will help my cause, and which will hurt it.

What do you track in your life?

Photo courtesy flickr user hans s

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