I love to-do lists and goals, but unless you severely monitor what you put into these systems, it’s harder to focus on what’s most important or build essential habits. But if you use a few easy metrics, it’s much simpler.
The simplest way to keep a productivity metric is keep a little log of how you rate yourself on a few core things that you want to do each day. I started this week with a simple spreadsheet and the four categories I feel are important to me this month: art, writing, editing, and exercise. When making such a sheet, try to keep it down to only a couple of categories that you want to track and ideally, pick something you want to improve or work on more.
Next, decide what system you'll use to rate yourself. For example, I use a 10 point system. For exercising, if I do all my exercises for the day at the amounts and difficulties listed, then I give myself a 10. If I skip a certain exercise or don't do it well, then I'll rate myself lower and if I forget to do anything, I get a 0. Make a 10 feel like a good amount of work, but make sure it’s a sustainable amount that you could achieve each day. And most importantly, be honest with yourself in your ratings.
To use a quote: "When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates" (see Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107).
If you're using productivity metrics, it's easy to start measuring yourself on different habits, goals, or skills. From there, you can see which categories you’re neglecting or what might be getting in the way of working on things during different days of the week. If you keep metrics for a week or a month, you can get averages that you can try to beat next time, perhaps for some sort of reward or incentive.
Your averages become your report to yourself and then it's up to you to try to do the same or better next time. If you want, you could also report them to a friend who could help provide advice or inspiration.
Productivity metrics work great for goals and habits that are more variable in work load or difficult to work on. They probably would work poorly on simpler goals where it's a matter of complete success or complete failure based on doing a single task, unless that’s what you really need to work on.
With the year wrapping up, it's a great time to figure out what essential skills, habits, or goals to focus on to end the year strong and move on to better things, and using the right productivity metrics can help jump-start that process of improvement.