OWNER'S MANUAL

6 Incredibly Simple Personal Metrics That Can Make You More Successful

Simple. Easy. Enlightening. And effective.
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Every successful company monitors mission-critical dashboards. Every successful company tracks key metrics. No one argues the importance of that.

So why don't we, as individuals, track personal metrics that can help us be more successful?

Good question, so here are six ways we can all use personal data to improve our professional and personal lives:

Physical

We all have limits. (Yes, even you.)

Sometimes it's obvious we need a break, but in most cases we figure it out too late. Put in double-digit hours and Sunday is no longer a day of rest and feeling overworked can become your new normal. Then when your performance starts to slip, instead of taking a break you put in more hours to compensate--and then you get even less done.

Finally hit a wall, and when that happens it can take days and even weeks to recover the enthusiasm, creativity, and motivation you've lost. And that is time you just can't afford to lose.

Here are some physical metrics to track to ensure you stay at your professional best:

1. Track your resting heart rate. Every day, before you get out of bed, take your pulse. (There are plenty of free apps that make it easy. Some even log results.) Most of the time your heart rate will stay within a few beats per minute. My resting heart rate is normally about 52 beats per minute. If one morning it's up near 60 I know something is up.

When we're overworked and stressed our systems send more oxygen to our body and brain by increasing your heart rate. (The same thing happens when an athlete over-trains and their body struggles to recover.)

Once you have a baseline for your resting heart rate, if you notice it's up in the morning, do whatever it takes to get a little extra rest or sleep that night. And if you notice it's trending down, that's a good thing, because you're either getting in better cardiovascular shape or losing weight--or both.

2. Track your weight. Losing or gaining more than a few percent of body weight from one day to the next is a clear warning sign.

Maybe yesterday was incredibly stressful and you didn't eat and drink enough. Lack of nourishment and hydration can put the hurt on higher-level mental functions, which may be why when we're overworked and feeling stressed we instinctively want to perform less complex tasks.

And eating too much food--well, we all know the impact of that.

You don't have to be a slave to the scale. Don't obsess over the number. Just keep track of where you stand and take action when the trend indicates action is needed.

3. Track your "output." Urine color can indicate a lack of hydration, although sometimes it indicates you created really expensive urine after you ate a bunch of vitamins your body could not absorb. Generally speaking, the lighter the color of your urine, the more hydrated you are. (Keep in mind that first thing in the morning your urine will always be darker.)

Hydration is a good thing. Proper hydration aids the absorption of nutrients and helps increase energy levels.

If your urine is darker than usual the cure is simple: drink a lot of water.

The key is to monitor each of the above over a period of time so you develop a feel for what is normal for you.

Then, don't say you don't have the time to take a short break, or get a little more sleep, or drink more water, or eat healthier. You owe it to yourself to find a way. Eventually your mind and your body will hit a wall and make you find a way... so why not take care of yourself and improve your performance on your terms?

Activity

Sit all day and it won't just make you fatter; as Jessica Stillman notes it can also make you dumber. Sit for the majority of the day and your risk of cardiovascular disease doubles compared to people who stand. Sitting for more than six hours a day can make you 18 percent more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease, and obesity than people who sit less than three hours a day.

And it gets even worse: sit for more than 11 hours a day makes you 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years compared to people who sit for less than four hours. Eleven hours may sound like a lot, but add up all the time you spend at your desk, in your car, and on your couch: odds are it's close to 11 hours.

Clearly whoever invented sitting did not have our best interests at heart.

The key, of course, is to get up as often as possible.

4. Track your hourly movement. One simple way to minimize the impact of sitting is to get up at least once an hour for five minutes or so. A tool like a Nike FuelBand makes it easy to remember--I get a text reminding me to get up and get moving if I've been stationary for too long. Plus the dashboard lets you look back and see when you were more or less active.

Other tools can help, too. Find one that works for you and monitor your periods of inactivity. Shoot for moving around at least once very two hours, preferably every hour. (Or you could do like me and use a treadmill desk: several problems solved.)

5. Track your daily movement. You also need at least one dose of sustained activity every day. As little as twenty minutes of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise will make you feel less fatigued and more energized. And if you do it first thing in the morning, that exercise will improve your mood and reduce your levels of stress.

The best approach? Work out first thing in the morning. Sure, you could work out after work, but then the happy feelings and extra brainpower will be wasted while you're asleep.

Remember, you only need to do about 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise. For most people, "moderate" means your heart rate should be within 100 to 120 beats per minute (depending on age, fitness level, medical conditions, etc.)

6. Track your sleep. I know what you're thinking: sleep is not activity.

That depends, though, on the quality of your sleep. Quantity matters... but so does quality.

Why? Sleep isn't just needed for rest and recuperation. In fact, your brain is just as active when you're asleep as it is during your waking hours. Sleep is important: by undermining sleep quality, you learn less, remember less, make worse decisions, and reduce your productivity.

Sleep tracking is easy and free. Apps like Sleep101 or SleepBot track your movements during the night to objectively evaluate how well you slept.

All you do is to place your smart phone on your mattress and tap a button. The app figures out when you fell asleep and woke up, tracks your movements, grades how well you slept, and graphs and charts the data to make it really easy to evaluate.

(If you share your bed this method of tracking may not be the most accurate gauge, so an individual device like the Jawbone UP may be a better if more expensive solution.)

Then use what you learn to experiment. Maybe light is a problem; try heavier blinds and see the result. Try putting away electronic devices for thirty minutes before you turn out the light; that alone can make a huge impact on how quickly you fall asleep.

Or try what I do: I always read before I turn out the light but stay away from page-turners since that defeats the purpose. Russian literature greats like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are not just fine novelists but outstanding sleep producers.

Think of it this way: You spend five to eight hours of every day sleeping--shouldn't you try to optimize the benefits of all that time?

Last updated: May 27, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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