Keeping score makes it a game

Can you imagine how weird and boring a sports game would be without a scoreboard? A fundamental principle of what makes a game interesting is keeping score. It allows everyone to quickly assess who is up or down. Teams make real-time changes like swapping in and out players or switching up plays and strategies in order to change the score. Yet we often fail to apply this same concept to our own lives in the “game” that is our career, business, or even elements of our personal lives. The difference here is that our competition isn’t another player or team, but ourselves. Its about relative improvement over past performance such that your real competition is you. 

If you’re looking to change an area of your life rather than obsess about the outcome you want simply start keeping score. Peter Drucker said “what gets measured, gets managed.” Stop right now and think about what you actually measure in your life? Perhaps you’re obsessive about your body mass index, or paying off credit card debt, praying three times a day, how many followers you have on Instagram, getting your inbox to zero daily, how many miles you need to hit that next tier of frequent flyer status. Notice something - when you measure it, you focus on it, and typically experiment and take action to get the result you want. 

Track activity not end outcomes

To get moving quickly and keep momentum, measure the activities or behaviors you know are necessary rather than just the end outcome. For instance, a salesperson may have a $1M annual sales quota (which they most certainly keep track of progress against), but their obsessive focus should be on making prospecting calls and setting up appointments rather than the end result. The most successful salespeople I know know that to hit or surpass their sales target they best knock on many doors, make many calls, and have many appointments. On a daily basis they set simple measurements to keep them on track (e.g. make 5 prospecting calls, set up 2 appointments). A “good day” is defined simply and objectively by achieving those goals rather than landing one of what may be very few sales deals that will manifest in a given year. 

Steven Pressfield, a successful author who’s book “The War of Art” I referenced in my post on resistance talks about what it takes for him to write books. Rather than worry about the end outcome of a completed book or even the quality or number of pages, he simply dedicates a fixed number of hours to writing daily. He knows that some days will yield more or better writing, and that the key is to just put in the time every day. So his measure, like that of a salesperson is quite simple. 

This will keep you sane

Why is measuring activity important. Many professions and industries require long spans of effort between results (imagine how many airplanes a saleswoman for Boeing sells in a year) so it is very difficult to answer that nagging question “Am I on the right track?” or “How am I doing?” Not knowing the answer to this question drives us nuts and we often are downtrodden with negative predictions of failure or are blissfully blind to how screwed we really are. Neither are good - its best to know exactly where you stand. 

I've been keeping score ... and its working

I’ve been trying this on myself. I’ve wanted to take my health and physique to the next level and two things that emerged from both my personal trainer and doctor were that I needed to improve my diet and get more sleep. So what did I start doing? Keep score. For the first 90 days of the year I used an ap called MyFitnessPal to track what I ate. I entered EVERYTHING I ate or drank (buffets are a nightmare!!!) for three months. I didn’t go on a diet or have any restrictions as to what I could consume. Rather, I just got present to what I was eating. Guess what? What got measured got managed. Within just a few weeks I made a different calculation when looking at the dessert menu, picking an entree or when I was about to order another glass of wine. I didn’t deny myself anything but I just thought of how making that choice would impact my overall calorie intake goal. I must say I was greatly disappointed when I saw my daily calorie count exceed my goal and the number in the app changed from green to red, even if just by 10 or 20 calories. As a result I lost weight and now am consistently making smarter choices about what and how much I consume. 

I also wanted to consistently get 7 hours of sleep. A few years back I read an insightful book Power Sleep and gained an appreciation for the scientific proof that links mood and mental performance to adequate sleep. Lately I’ve been working hard to grow my business and am learning a ton, and it requires that I’m extra mentally sharp. So I simply started keeping score (yes/no) as to if I was getting 7 hours nightly. I used a super simple behavior change app and swiped to the right to get that green check mark daily. As a result I got 7 hours of sleep upwards of 90% of the time once I started just keeping score. 

Start keeping score

What game are you playing? What does winning look like? And what will it take to win?
If you’re raising money for a startup perhaps its the number of pitches to VC’s you make each week. If you’re a realtor perhaps its the number of social events you attend each week where you can meet prospects. If you’re a manager needing to delegate more perhaps its the number of tasks you assign to your staff daily. 

Consider these tips when keeping score: 

  • Use something that you can measure now (off the shelf, nothing you have to figure out how to measure or build/create)
  • Pick something you can ideally measure daily (or weekly)
  • Make sure the measurement is something that you believe, if you did, would eventually produce the end outcome you want 
  • Have it be verifiable (doesn’t have to be quantifiable but at least something you can validate if you did it or not)
  • Create a scoring mechanism (the apps I referenced above are examples - you could have an accountability partner you text daily, or other ways that keep you accountable)
  • Set a short-ish time period (try 30-60 days, or even a week)
  • Put a reminder in your calendar in the future to check back and see how you did

Bonus opportunity: 

If you really want to be a leader and held accountable leave a comment below with what score you are going to keep and for how long, then post your progress against it in the future! 

Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan via Creative Commons