Lately, it seems like I’ve heard a lot of suggestions to write everything down: if I want to get my finances in order, I should track every penny I spend. If I want to eat better, I should track every calorie I consume. I’m all for keeping track of progress, but I keep thinking that tracking everything is bound to get overwhelming very quickly.
6 Reasons to Track Your Progress
- Milestones Are Crucial: Milestones tell you if your efforts are working. They’re also the benchmarks that you can use to convince an employer to give you a raise, a teacher to give you a better grade or a bank to give you a better interest rate. It’s very hard to show progress without regularly recorded data, but with it you can easily support an argument that you deserve better because you’ve been doing better.
- Creating a Baseline: If you really want to be able to show progress, though, you’ll need a baseline. You’ll need to track your data before you even start working on improvements. Having a baseline, though, offers a way to measure how much progress you’ve made, as well as compare the effectiveness of different strategies. If you want to measure just how much success you have in something like changing your diet, starting with a baseline can help you decide what eating strategies have really worked for you.
- The Psychological Factor: If you’re trying to change a habit, you have to make sure that you’re aware of it. If you want to change your spending, you need to be aware of where you currently are spending your money. If you’re in the habit of buying a cup of coffee every morning, you may not really be aware of it anymore. Looking at a list of places you’ve spent money at the end of the week can really bring the total cost to your attention.
- Staying on Track: If you’re working on a long-term project, it can be difficult to stay focused. Lots of the problems or habits you might consider tracking count as long-term projects, by the way. But writing down something daily that you’ve done that contributed (whether positively or negatively) to a project is an easy way to make sure that you make at least a little progress over time. Tracking your efforts is a good way to stay on track, as well as to demonstrate to stakeholders that you aren’t ignoring their project.
- Proving Your Point: Having a detailed record of just what you’ve been up to can come in handy, as I think every freelancer and plenty of salaried workers can swear to. What if your boss or client asks you to justify the cost of your work? Being able to pull out a set of notes describing your efforts can be the proof needed to dispute any arguments about your paycheck or invoice.
- Finding a Problem: If you have a reoccurring symptom, like stomach pains, your doctor might ask you to keep track of how often you experience the problem, along with some information about what you do differently on the days that you experience the pain. The same method can help pinpoint the causes of problems with systems far beyond your gastrointestinal tract. Maybe you need to find a bug in your software or where all of your cash goes. Either way, a little bit of tracking could nail down your problem.
3 Reasons to Forget About Tracking Progress
- The Sheer Amount of Work: Keeping a precise record of anything you do over the course of a day can eat into the time you have available to actually do work. A minute here and a minute there doesn’t seem like a lot on the surface, but it can add up. It gets much worse if you try to track multiple variables at once: if you’re trying to keep a record of what you do over the course of the day, as well as every cent you spend, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
- Automated Procedures: For a lot of the variables you might be thinking about tracking, there’s already an automated tracking mechanism in place. Think about your finances. Aside from cash, someone already tracks every cent you spend. If you limit the amount of cash you spend, why bother keeping track yourself? You can just log on to your bank’s website at the end of the day or the week and review their tracking.
- Processing the Paperwork: Generally, if you’re tracking your progress, you’re doing so with paper and pencil. Even if you’re relying on an Excel spreadsheet or some other technique, it seems like you’re going to have to process all that data somehow if you want to track a variable for anything beyond the actual act of tracking it. Say you’re keeping a close eye on your calorie intake: you’ll have to make a note of what you eat at lunch — maybe on your phone, maybe on a napkin. When you get back to your computer, you’ll need to enter your menu in whatever larger system you’re using.
What do you think?
Has careful tracking helped you achieve a goal? Did it help you get your spending/eating/time-wasting under control? Or was keeping a precise record impractical for you?
Personally, I think it’s worth my while to make note of milestones, but tracking some information day after day isn’t going to do me so much good. For something along the lines of changing a habit — like spending money you don’t want to — tracking data for a week may be enough to change your habits. Once you’ve gotten yourself set into a new habit, continuing to track your progress probably won’t help you that much.
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