When I first encountered the “you-can’t-manage-what-you-cannot-measure” school of thought as a young business journalist, it sounded profound. Practitioners believe when an outcome is defined, the steps to get there must be articulated as well. Progress can then be measured in quantifiable units.
Some years later, I encountered another breed who dismissed this notion as corporate gibberish. How can intangibles such as creativity and innovation be measured, they asked. Indeed!
It was inevitable then I wrestle with questions such as: Is it better to live a measured life? Or am I better off with unquantifiable intangible values? On poring over notes from conversations with thought leaders and personal experiences, it appears, the truth lies someplace in between.
On listening to both kinds closely, a thread binds them—a fanaticism with routine. And in attempting to take a leaf from their books, for some time now, I have attempted to be fastidious about routine and keep track of outcomes. Basis that, I now know a few things about myself.
1. A time audit has made it obvious that to perform at optimum, I need three hours of screen-free time in the mornings. Investigating why productivity drops on days when I get to the screen earlier eventually led me to Cardiograph, a heart rate (HR) monitoring app on my phone. My HR shoots into the high 70s as opposed to staying in the late-60s when I get to the screen later in the morning.
Apparently, no time out with self in the morning makes me fidgety and leads to a high HR. Consequently, I perform at sub-optimum levels.
2. Extracting three hours every morning, however, sounded impossible unless I sacrificed sleep. Even the thought was tiring. Until my friend Dr Rajat Chauhan, a sport medicine doctor, pointed out, “It is not how long you sleep that matters, but how well you sleep.” His advice led me to deploy a sleep tracking device.
It is intended to monitor the number of hours I sleep. Conventional wisdom has it that most people need eight hours of sleep.
Oftentimes though, people wake up after getting these hours and still feel tired. This, Dr Chauhan explains, is because sleep happens in three stages and what matters most is how much of Stage 3 (deep sleep) do we get. If the body is not tired by a physical routine of some kind during the day, getting enough deep sleep can be difficult.
My sleep tracker suggests on the nights I get anything between 100-120 minutes of Stage 3 sleep, I’m good to go. Much tinkering later, I now know I get this kind of sleep when I have engaged in some kind of physical activity during the day and the last meal is consumed no later than 7:30 pm with very little or no carbohydrates.
3. Then there is success. Wealth is often deployed to measure it. But the chairman of an infrastructure company told me how flawed it is. Success, he said, is when he experiences satisfaction. To experience that, he works to ensure there is no dichotomy between his professional and personal life.
I hear the wisdom in his thinking and understand there are no metrics to measure satisfaction. He must continually hack his life to ensure the professional does not overwhelm his personal life and vice versa. To do that, he is always in work-in-progress mode and remains accountable to himself.
To answer whether he has walked the line well during the day, when he takes stock each night, he asks himself whether he did a good job. If he did, what did he do right? If he didn’t, what ought he improve upon tomorrow?
The long-term outcome is satisfaction. All of this may sound terribly monotonous and routine. But as that saying goes, routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.
(This is an expanded version of a piece that was originally published in Hindustan Times)