Monday, May 21, 2012

Losing the Plot?

There's a long standing statement that we are all familiar with:

"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for life."

The part that often goes missing from this statement is "teach everyone how to fish… pretty soon you are out of fish and have to move elsewhere". 

Yeah, it spoils the message a little bit, but it's true.

Another statement some may be less familiar with, but one I like a lot, has to do with goals and measuring them:

"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates."  
--Thomas S. Monson

On the surface, I totally agree with this, except for one fact… when we measure performance, we can get so caught up with the measurement and fine tuning the measurement and extrapolating the measurement, that we completely kill the performance initiative we were aiming to fix in the first place.

I make no secret of the fact that I consider myself a RescueTime nerd. I use it for my own benefit to see where I am and where I put my time. I started out totally objective in my goals, and I put everything into nice easily defined piles. Software Development work? Highly Productive. Dorking around on Facebook? Incredibly distracting. Personal email? Incredibly distracting. Simple and easy to see what I should be focusing my energies on.

Except it wasn't. What happens when I am responsible for testing Frictionless Sharing on Facebook? Is it distracting or highly productive? When my scripts go out and perform tasks on Facebook, is that productive or distracting? How do I tell the system the difference? It's simple, I go in and I create sub categories that tell me "this is distracting, except for when it's not"… and if you are confused by that last statement, congratulations, it means you are paying attention :).

The point is, we run the risk of becoming myopic if we are simply focused on wringing out what  we think is the most effective use of our time without applying some context to the time we are using. I had this point drilled into me last week when I got my weekly report. Yes, I get these as little pep talks to myself to make sure I know where I'm spending my online time. The overall numbers looked pretty good, including the statement that I was 28% more productive than the average RescueTime user… ahhh, but don't pat me on the back just yet. Why not? I thought to look at the categories. One of the most prominent (and listed as "Very Productive")? Yep, RescueTime itself! I actually spent so much time justifying, checking, fine tuning, and categorizing my activities, that I registered all that categorization as one of my most prominent uses of my time. 

Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb!!! 

So lets go back to that second quote again, shall we?

"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates."

Except that, if we get too caught up in measuring and reporting, we end up actually wasting time that could be used to actually improve real performance in (fill in the blank category). I'm not saying "don't measure". I'm not saying "don't report". I am saying make sure that the data you are collecting is in the correct context, and then make sure that you are not getting too caught up in the measurement and reporting aspects. Provide enough to make sure you are on track, but remember the whole point of what you are actually measuring and reporting.

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