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How to Use Measurement to Make Progress Towards Your Goals

How to Use Measurement to Make Progress Towards Your Goals

What if you wake up tomorrow in a world where measurement had lost all meaning. What if life went by without anyone measuring anything? How will your typical day look like?

You will start your morning when sunlight glazes your face through the curtains. As you drag yourself out of bed, you rub your eyes saying, “I have a busy day at work today.” You have to rush to your workplace as soon as possible, but you do not know what time it is because no one measures anything, remember?

You rush through your morning chores and hop into your car. When you’re driving, you carelessly change lanes without a signal. A cop driving behind you notices what you did, pulls you over and writes you a ticket. You have no idea if the fine was hefty or light, or if you have enough bank balance to clear the dues.

As soon as you reach the office parking lot, your coworker walks towards you with a briefcase of money and says, “I owed you this from a long time.” Again, did your colleague return all the money you had lent? Did he add an extra sum as a goodwill gesture? You cannot figure that out.

As you step into the office, your boss calls you to have a discussion. “I have discussed your promotion with upper management. But to make that happen, we want your team to do more.” You nod and return to your seat.

You gather all your team members and announce, “In the upcoming months, we should increase the sales we make.” A team member raises his hand. “By how much?” he asks. “We need to make more,” you reply, and the people nod in agreement.

How measurement plays a role

Do you realize how absurd the world would seem like if measurement was no longer relevant? Numbers are a necessary part of so many little things you do, whether you realize it or not. Without them, you would fail to follow a recipe off the internet, pay your electricity bill every month or buy milk at the supermarket.

Though you understand the importance of measurement, do you use it when necessary? Not always. Let’s take a few examples:

  • I will start working on my long term goals “soon”
  • I want to begin working out “in the upcoming days”
  • I must start saving money “in the near future”

Do you find yourself making such statements? If you do, you’re failing to use measurement to make progress towards your goals. Unfortunately, we all make such mistakes with the important targets we ought to pursue.

Related article: How to define your long term goals

Isn’t it ironic that we measure everything from the coffee we make to the medicine we take, yet we fail to apply measurement where it matters the most?

You define a goal without a precise measure or a stipulated deadline with a blind hope that you’ll achieve it one day. A wise man had once said, “What cannot be measured cannot be improved.” You know the quote, yet you never think of applying it to the dreams you have.

Problems of lack of measurement

Of course, you will never wake up to a today where numbers cease to exist. But, what happens when you fail to measure your goals?

1. You do not know how much progress you’ve made

Without quantifying your goal with numbers, you won’t know how close or far you are from achieving it.

Have you heard people saying, “I want to achieve ….” If you check again six months later, you will find them exactly where they were without having made any progress. In the past, I was that person. Maybe that’s your story today.

When you don’t measure what you’re aiming for, you will wander around like a deer separated from the herd. You only know your final goal, but you have no clue when, how, or if you will get there.

Measurements provide a reality check which indicates if you’re on track to achieve what you’re aiming for.

2. You take things easy

Staying ignorant about your progress is a way of fooling yourself into believing that you have time to accomplish your goals. It helps you feel less guilty for not taking action.

Take an example where you’re working at a job you hate and want to make a career change. Without setting a deadline and spending time on the preparation required, you will remain stuck at the same place forever.

Measuring progress reminds you that you need to put in more effort. To avoid that uncomfortable feeling, you prefer remaining ignorant instead. The lack of details makes it easy to postpone your targets into the future repeatedly.

How to start using measurement to achieve your goal

So, you have a goal in mind which you aren’t sure how to measure. The following 5 steps will provide a direction to begin.

A word of caution, though. Each goal will have different intricacies, which might require tweaks to the approach mentioned below. Use these 5 steps as a reference point for measurement and not a step by step blueprint for every scenario.

Step 1: Quantify

The hardest part of measurement lies in converting your goal into an appropriate number to aim for. Before we dive into the details, I guess you have a concern, “But we cannot quantify every goal easily.”

You’re right. Some areas such as sales, recruitment, business profits are straight forward to measure. But, your goals might have a generic tone such as:

  • I want to become a successful entrepreneur
  • I want to achieve fame
  • I want to become an accomplished writer

For the above examples, the problem does not lie in the measurement but in the goal-setting itself. When you set goals as vague as these, you will have a hard time pursuing them.

In the first example, if your business makes 100 million dollars in another year, do you consider yourself successful or not? The answer depends on your personality and mindset. You might look at 10 million as the benchmark, while another businessman aims for a billion. A pet-rescue startup owner with a different mindset might not consider money as a factor for success at all.

Everyone has their definition of success, and only you can decide what it means to you. No matter what your goal is, you can find a way to translate that into a number to target even if it isn’t a direct measure.

  • If you’re a writer, you can track the number of pages you write or books you sell
  • If you’re a chef, you can tally the number of new dishes you create in a month
  • If you’re a public speaker, you can collect reviews, conduct surveys and measure ratings

If another person finds your measurement of success absurd, do not break your head. After all, it’s your definition and what you care about. That said, do keep an open mind when you hear a better method of measuring your goals.

Step 2: Break large tasks into smaller pieces

The bigger a task is, the more you feel the urge to procrastinate.

Compare these two jobs:

  • Start a side hustle which earns 5000$ a month
  • Write down 5 ideas which can make 100$ a month

The first option appears attractive because of the reward, but overwhelming due to the effort. You will hesitate to begin because it is a massive job that requires at least a year’s worth of effort. In comparison, the second task requires an hour or two at most.

If you think again, when you write down 5 ideas to make a 100$ each month, you are one step closer to 5000$. All you need is a pen and paper to get started and finish the task on the same day. Sure, you only took a baby step, but you made progress after all.

If you approach the final target as one enormous task, you might wait weeks, months, or years to even begin.

Take a goal that takes years to accomplish and strip it down to easier jobs step by step. The more you breakdown the tasks, the faster you’ll make progress.

Related article: How to break long term goals into short term tasks

Step 3: Set milestones

When you’re on a long drive, have you noticed how the milestones invoke a feeling of inching closer towards the destination?

A milestone serves two essential purposes:

  • Tells you where you stand
  • Keeps you motivated because the target seems closer and closer

In spite of the clear benefits of milestones, most of us fail to use them to achieve our long term goals. Your process of approaching a goal without any milestones looks like this:

If your destination is distant, the effort, time, and energy required can create a mental obstacle to begin.

In comparison, milestones make the same journey appear like the following:

Instead of defining your goal as one final destination, break it down into intermediate steps with a target and a timeline. A long, arduous expedition now seems like a step by step adventure.

Step 4: Make a plan

Without a plan, you’ll have a hard time sticking to a goal. It’s like sailing through the ocean without a compass. You’ll never know when you’re deviating from the course.

Having a plan will speed up the process of achieving your target. That said, you do not need a step by step plan which outlines every little nitty-gritty detail. You only need an outline that keeps you on track.

Also, no project runs precisely as per the plan. Things go wrong, unforeseen events occur, and deadlines overshoot. But that’s when the plan helps you work out the necessary course corrections to get back on track.

When planning, feel free to break down tasks further, combine them in batches, and readjust the milestones you set earlier.

You can dream as unrealistically as you like, but your plan to get there should be realistic.

Step 5: Perform a monthly self-appraisal

Once a month, sit down to analyze where you stand concerning your goals. You have to ensure you’re honest to yourself for the activity to be on any use.

Often, due to your excitement to achieve the result, you set up impractical intermediate milestones. When you fail to keep up a deadline, ask yourself what went wrong.

  • Was there an unforeseen event?
  • Did you fail to give your best?
  • Was the target too hard to achieve?
  • Was the result unexpected despite sticking to the plan?

The intention of the self-appraisal process isn’t to lament over what failed. You must use the time to assess the right things you did and the mistakes you committed and learn from them. Use the new-found knowledge to revamp the plan if required.

The monthly frequency is only a reference point. Based on your goal, you might have to revisit your progress every 2 weeks or once in a quarter.

Related article: How to perform a self review to evaluate yourself


Numbers add meaning to the world around you. Newton did not assume that objects thrown in the air fell to the ground for no reason. Instead, he managed to explain gravity with measurement. Likewise, most other inventions and discoveries happened because a fellow human measured and experimented.

Without measuring your goals in some shape or form, you’ll have a hard time going after them. Numbers add meaning to your effort and also keep you motivated to keep pursuing what you want.

Spend a small portion of your time measuring, and you’ll reap the benefits a hundredfold. Leave a comment mentioning what’s your goal and how do you measure it.

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Join the discussion

  • Hi Max,
    Wow its good article. I cant even imagine that there is article on such topics.
    You are doing really a great job by expressing words on paper.
    I have a question, I am software developer. now a days many technologies pop up day by day. I am just confused what goals should I carry and How can I measure it.


    • Thank you for the kind words Priyanka 🙂
      As for your question, I have spent a good amount of my career on programming, so let me give an example. I will address only the measurement part of your question in this comment for simplicity and relevance. The goal I would set is, “be able to design a deep learning model to solve problem X with an accuracy of 95%.”
      My milestones will be:
      1. Learn Statistics, data cleaning and data visualization in Python (2 months)
      2. Take 2 online courses on supervised ML(1 month)
      3. Find 3 datasets, and solve a problem at X accuracy using my code of supervised ML(1 month)
      4. Take a course on unsupervised learning(1 month)
      5. Find 3 datasets, and solve a problem at X accuracy using my code of unsupervised ML(1 month)
      6, 7, 8.. Further milestones which are stepping stones to developing expertise in ML
      My Machine Learning knowledge is theoretical, so I am cannot quantify the numbers exactly and the progression also may not be completely meaningful. But I guess you got the point. You can send me an email for more details.

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