Every Step You Take

I came across a reference this week to a study on fitness tracking devices. The study found that we are more active when we wear a tracker, even if the tracker isn’t counting steps accurately or working reliably. The researchers reasoned that to our minds, anything that gets measured is considered more important. If we start measuring steps, then steps matter more to us, and so forth.

It’s axiomatic in business that “What gets measured gets managed,” though the full quote, from a guy named V.F Ridgway writing in 1956, goes as follows: “What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”.

I’m reminded of Ridgway’s wisdom every time I’m supposed to respond to a customer service questionnaire–“Please take just thirty seconds to help us improve our service!”–when the problem is not the response I received after a problem arose, but the product I purchased in the first place, the website I had to navigate to find the door to the customer service rabbit hole, and the stupid tech design intended to bilk me of time and money after I buy the product and it doesn’t work as advertised, and can’t be terminated without following a NASA launch sequence. None of those topics appear on the questionnaire of course, but the company sure wants to know if Lauren-bot in support came through for me. Sure, they do.

So… deciding what to measure matters, and that led me to think about what I measure. Not my weight–not sure what it is, beyond, “A little too much of a good thing…” Not my bank account. There’s money in there most days, thank heavens, and I have a general idea how much, but I don’t micro-manage it.

Well, how ’bout… word counts? Now we’re talkin’.

Miss Determined is sitting at about 60,000 words as of today. I am aware of how many words I write each day, where that puts me regarding progress with the book as a whole, and how far I have to go until my draft is complete (though those goal posts are notorious for  moving). Some authors use little programs that turn word counts into pretty charts, some notch their plot outlines to estimated word counts. Word counts get measured, and yet… every author I know understands that a big pile of rough draft writing is only a limited accomplishment.

We measure the size of that pile because we can’t revise a blank page, but we can spin 100,000 bales of straw into prose-gold, if we’re lucky and work hard. Finishing the first draft gets us to the base camp, and there’s no expedition to the literary heights without reaching that first milestone.

Miss Determined by Grace BurrowesBut I cannot measure how much I miss my daughter, though I went for 1262 days without seeing her. I cannot measure how grateful I am to see the year’s first crocuses, or how much joy I derive from a little trail ride with dear Santa on a pleasant winter day… and those things matter to me tremendously.

What gets measured gets managed, but am I measuring–is it even possible to measure–what really matters?

So that takes me to another question: What do you measure, and why do you measure it?

And PS, because some anthems from my wayward youth deserve a regular re-hearing, here’s The Police, Every Step You Take  (originally released in 1983!).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

10 comments on “Every Step You Take

  1. These days I’m mostly measuring medical things. I weigh myself every day, though I only record it once a week, and I take my blood pressure once a week also. Both are required to keep me as healthy as possible as I drift farther into “seniorhood.” I’ve always teased that I want to live forever but after watching my parents through their aging, I now know that it’s not the duration but the quality. Obviously, I didn’t realize this until I was well grown so there are some things I can never recover, but I can at least try to make my future health no worse.
    Otherwise, I’m trying to stay relaxed and not worry about measuring much else. Being retired is a big help in that regard. And though I cannot measure it, I was thrilled last week to see the azaleas are popping out in the bushes underneath my computer room window. It means spring is on the way and then summer comes!

  2. Try this one: https://youtu.be/0PLNsymQi3Y
    Same song, adjusted to minor key.

    I measure very carefully when cooking, esp. while baking. My mind wanders terribly and is planting flowerbeds or traveling the world from the kitchen. The amount of good food I’ve had to throw out is staggering. (I know people with pigs and goats now)

  3. Grace, you’re a pianist so am sure you can relate–I count the number of times I play something while practicing. I may repeat a phrase a certain number of times or a page or a run through, depending on what it is or when I have to play it in public.

    I learned from my children’s piano teacher (one son has a BM, MM and Performers Certificate in piano so she much have known what she was doing)that it’s not how long you practice but what and how you practice. She would ask the kids to play this exercise or piece a certain number of times each practice session and then they were finished. It makes sense, even for me.

    This idea can be used for any skill that needs to be perfected, even cooking!

  4. I measure a lot of health parameters, trying to optimize my health from many dimensions. Sometimes I feel like I spend way too much time documenting! But it does help me track and tweak, so I guess its worth it?

  5. Well, I measure how long I have to finish chores before I leave to go to work, how long it is until I can leave work and head off to my next set of choses, and how long I get to sleep. In other words, I am older, more tired, and burned out. I know I am ungrateful – it is always better to have a job than to be looking for one.

    Thank you for the ARC! I’m looking forward to starting it.

  6. First- a dangerous measure that won’t go away no matter the proof of harm done- children’s IQ and/or performance scores. Humans cannot be quantified.

    OK – now me; my iPhone really does measure & get me to move more. Grace is right, there is no measuring the pain of distance from my daughters and now a small granddaughter.

    Now I am teary and can’t remember exactly what the question was.

    • Sue, I always appreciated the confirmation that my kids were overachieving. Showing up and following directions made more difference than native ability in that arena.

  7. As I’ve aged, I have become more interested in tracking those numerical measures of my health. It’s a sobering thought when, believing you are still “young,” your doctor mentions that some of your health metrics are not where she would prefer they be. Suddenly numbers on a lab report have great and scary meaning. Blood pressure, which a couple of years ago, was “just how your body works,” is suddenly “something we need to address.” I’m not sure why it surprises me. I was intimately involved with my parents aging, bringing them to doctor visits, setting up their meds, monitoring their diet, etc. Barring the unfortunate alternative, I guess I always assumed I would age, just not so soon! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!