Measurement is the heart of improvement

bookpilesWant to know a trick about getting more done? Find a way to measure your output, and then do so. Regularly. I’ve used this trick any number of times over the years – as a way to get my thesis done, to improve my wrist shot, to teach myself how to juggle… And yes,  I also used it as a way to get my novel finished.

There are really three steps to this, if you want it to work well – finding a way to measure and then measuring repeatedly are the first two. The third one is to find a way to measure automatically.

Let’s face it, if we have to pull out the calipers three times a day in order that, one day, maybe a month or two from now, we’ll achieve some goal we’re really not all that motivated to achieve right now anyway, will we actually do it? Well we might, but you can see pretty quickly how that thought process threatens to rob you of your progress. And if the challenge is to amp up the writing output over the course of the next six months or year it will take to finish a novel, that’s an awfully long time to expect yourself to stay rigorous with the measuring, isn’t it?

So you need to find a way to do it automatically.

Take writing. If you want to increase the number of words you write each day, measure your words. The slog-fisted way to go about it would be to keep a spreadsheet going with your daily word count, and at the end of every writing session, ask your word processor to show you the current word count of your project file, which you dutifully record in the sheet. I don’t know about you, but I would keep that up for exactly three days and then I’d conveniently start forgetting to do it.

That’s why I wrote production-monitor. It’s a simple little Python script that monitors my project directory and every single hour, counts up the size of each file in the directory and makes an entry into a log file, telling me how many words I’ve written that hour, and what my total word count is. But I don’t have to tell it to do this. Nope. Production-monitor is always watching. Every hour of every day, whether I write anything or not. To keep things simple, if I haven’t written anything in a given hour (and let’s face it, that is true for most of the hours in any given day) it doesn’t bother making any record at all. Frankly, I’m only interested in seeing how much I write when I do write – not when I don’t write.

So what does this buy me? Well, over the course of a month, I can look back and see that I’m writing about 1000 words a day, 4 days per week. I can see that it’s taking me about 2 hours each day to hit that mark, and that outside of those four days, I’m averaging another 200 words per day on two more days of the week. Not stellar, but if I happen to know that it’s been a very busy week in Dad-land, then I can cut myself some slack.

But if it hasn’t been a family-heavy week, then maybe I should look at doing a fifth day of 1000 word work. Or maybe I should investigate my writing process to see if I can get my hourly production rate up. Am I spending too much time on the net? Have I got the radio on while I’m writing? See, the numbers don’t lie. If they say 1000 words are all I’m getting done, then that’s how much (or how little) I’m getting done. And numbers do not accept excuses. They can be a ruthless task-master, and when my output is flagging, that’s pretty much exactly what I need.

So, like I said at the beginning – it all starts with being able to measure. As for what you do next, to increase your output once you have a measurement system – well, that’ll be the subject of the next posting.

Want to check out my automation script? You can download it here: Download

Meanwhile, I’m curious about how other people handle their productivity measurements. Do you track your productivity? If so, how?

[dropshadowbox effect=”raised” align=”center” width=”70%” background_color=”#EFD” border_color=”#EFD”]Further Reading

Rachel Aaron has a great post about how she used a similar technique to go from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000.[/dropshadowbox]



In praise of simple tools
What creativity is not

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.