How to Predict Your Future, Part 2

Find the best activity and track it along with results.

In part 1 of How to Predict Your Future, I covered the critical idea that if you want to predict whether or not you’ll achieve something, you have to measure your activity and your results. And I explained that for every important goal, you have to set a specific, measurable target for the result and the activity. (I recommend reading that post before continuing on with this one, if you haven’t already.)

In this post, I’ll help you think through what activity you should be measuring and explain why tracking your activity and results numbers is the only way to keep yourself on target.

Measure the Best Activity—the Activity that Produces Results

In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, a book about how businesses can achieve their wildly important goals, Chris McChesney and Sean Covey spend a lot of time on lead measures (“Act on the lead measures” is Discipline #2). Here’s what the authors say:

This is the discipline of leverage. It’s based on the simple principle that all actions are not created equal. Some actions have more impact than others when reaching for a goal. And it is those that you want to identify and act on if you want to reach your goal.

Absolutely! Understanding this idea is how some people race toward their goals while other people meander along. I can’t tell you exactly what activity you should focus on and measure because it depends entirely on your goals. But I can offer a helpful approach to answering the question.

One simple technique for identifying the root cause of a problem or result (and a root cause is almost always an activity) is called 5 Whys. It was first developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. The idea is to ask “why” again and again until you get to the fundamental reason something has happened. Here’s an example:

Last year I lost 8 pounds (to continue the example from part 1)
Why? Because I ate better.
Why? Because I had healthier food in the house.
Why? Because I shopped with healthier foods on my list.
Why? Because I planned healthy meals on Sunday and used the recipes to make my list.

So, if I want to lose 8 pounds now, one activity to track is whether or not I am planning my meals every week and using that plan to make my shopping list. If I look at why I gained that weight back, what I’ll probably find is that I stopped planning my meals, or stopped planning healthy meals.

It sure is helpful when you can look at a past success and analyze it to help you figure out what activity to focus on going forward. But even if you’re starting off on something new, you can still use this method. Begin with the end in mind and think backward, in a similar sort of analysis.

If the activity you identify doesn’t deliver the progress you expect by a certain point, re-evaluate and adjust.

Track and Post Your Progress on Activity and Results

If you want to achieve a goal, you have to stay focused. To stay focused, you need to track your activity and results as often as you can—or as often as it makes sense to. It’s the only way to know if you’re off target. The sooner you find out, the faster you can adjust to get back on track.

Some things you can track weekly, some monthly, some quarterly or even yearly. It depends on the nature of the result you’re shooting for (short-term, long-term) or the activity you have to put in (weekly, monthly). For instance, gym visits you would track weekly, increases in your income you would track annually.

When you track activity and results side by side, you learn what’s working and what isn’t.

When you track activity and results side by side, you learn what’s working and what isn’t. Click To Tweet

Tracking these measures is one part of the equation. Posting or sharing them is the other. Some goals require a team effort. If that’s true for you, make sure that the entire team knows the results and how they’re doing on activity. Post the numbers publicly—physically or electronically. If you’re working toward a personal goal, post the results and your activity record somewhere that you can see it—on a sticky note on your desk or in an excel spreadsheet that you tape on your wall.

It’s up to you to decide how to track and post the results (and how often) to create the greatest impact.

I can’t tell you what to measure or how often. It depends completely on your goals and activity. What I can tell you is that you have to measure both the right activity and results. When you do that, you give yourself the data you need to stay on track until you cross the finish line.

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