How to Track Your Progress—and Why You Should

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Decoding Greatness" by Ron Friedman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How does setting goals help you do great work? Why is it important to track your progress toward your goals?

Ron Friedman believes you can do and make great things by reverse engineering work you admire. Part of the process is improving your own work performance. This invariably entails setting goals and tracking your progress.

Read on to learn how to improve your performance with metrics.

Tracking Your Progress

Friedman says you can improve your performance by setting goals and then developing key metrics to help you track your progress toward your goals. He explains that doing so encourages you to think critically about your goals and how to achieve them.

That’s because metrics force you to break down your larger goal into component steps, behaviors, or milestones. In turn, these milestones help you track your progress and also detect areas where your performance is lagging, which Friedman says allows you to take a strategic approach to improvement.

(Shortform note: One way to implement performance metrics is with the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) system. In Measure What Matters, John Doerr explains that OKRs are a way to achieve your high-level goals (objectives) by identifying and measuring the specific behaviors and accomplishments (key results) that, if completed, will fulfill that goal. Once you’ve identified three to five key results for each objective, you periodically track and score your performance by using objective measures (such as completion percentages) and subjective assessments to judge how well you did with each key result. At the end of an OKR cycle, you have a chance to review your scores and decide what next steps to take to keep making progress.)

Friedman warns that, if you do use metrics, you should be careful not to get too focused on metrics for metrics’ sake. He explains that metrics are simplifications, and if you choose your metrics poorly, you might miss important aspects of your behavior or even let your pursuit of numbers distort your actual behaviors and thereby undermine your goals.

For example, if you want to get better at painting and decide to track your progress in terms of how many paintings you finish in a month, you might find yourself focusing only on familiar, comfortable subjects and techniques rather than challenging yourself as we discussed earlier—choices that would improve your metrics without actually improving your painting skills.

(Shortform note: As data-based approaches have become more common in many aspects of daily life, researchers have found that there is indeed a real danger of metrics causing unintentional and undesirable behavioral changes. For example, wearable fitness trackers like Fitbit promise to make you more active by tracking the steps you take each day. But studies have found that these metrics make some users more stressed, which paradoxically leads them to become less active. Similarly, some users report distorted behaviors such as avoiding exercise and moving as little as possible while charging their device’s battery so as not to “waste” any untracked steps.)

How to Track Your Progress—and Why You Should

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Ron Friedman's "Decoding Greatness" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Decoding Greatness summary:

  • The secret shortcut to elite performance and creative innovation
  • How to reverse engineer someone else's work to create your own
  • How to lower the stakes of failure by mitigating your creative risks

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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