There was a scene in the movie Social Network. Mark Zuckerberg and his team moved into their first office. They placed a big screen in the lobby showing the number of registered Facebook users. That number was going up continuously and motivating everybody in the team.
A similar practice is popular among executives nowadays. Instead of big screens in lobbies, executives have their key numbers on their computer screens. Those numbers are visualized in a few charts that fit a computer screen. This collection of charts are called dashboards.
An executive can see all the key numbers of their business with a single look on their dashboard. Think about the dashboard in your car. It’s a crucial part of driving. You need to know how fast you drive, how much fuel you’ve left, and whether your engine is overheating or not.
The Benefits of Dashboards
Business dashboards serve various purposes.
- Decision making
- Determining the direction of the company
- Detecting problems
- Coming up with points of improvement
- And so on…
The Numbers I Track
I track two numbers about my blog. The growth ratio of my Medium followers and my email newsletter subscribers. My target for both figures is 10% weekly growth. I explained this goal in a previous post called How I Use Growth Metrics to Optimize the Stats of My Blog and Email Newsletter.
Numbers are critical. Money is nothing but a collection of numbers in databases around the world. You need those numbers to pay the bills. If you want to improve your business, you need to keep track of your numbers. What gets measured gets improved.
However, numbers aren’t everything. When you’re driving, you don’t look at your dashboard all the time. You look at it at critical moments. During the rest of the time, you look at the road.
When running a business, it’s not so evident that you have to take your eyes off the dashboard once in a while. If you don’t pay attention, you can easily get lost in numbers and data. As a result, you might miss some critical aspects that can’t be measured by numbers.
Obsessing about Numbers
I was in that situation for a few weeks. The numbers of my blog are easy to track and extremely volatile. I hit my goals one week, miss them the next. This type of volatility can motivate you to the point of obsession. I wonder whether that kind of motivation is healthy.
Being obsessed with numbers can lead you to make mistakes. Think about a sales rep who makes unrealistic promises to their prospects to meet their targets. Think about a software developer checking in buggy code to complete their tasks before the deadline.
Stressing about Numbers
If you can’t reach your targets for an extended amount of time, you might be tempted to quit. Many people can’t handle the stress of not meeting their goals. As a result, they either give up, or they decrease their targets.
In our imagination, we expect linear growth. In practice, we experience long plateaus of mediocre results punctuated with growth spikes. You can check Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point for more about this.
My Unhealthy Relationship with Numbers
I had an unhealthy relationship with the numbers of my blog in the last few weeks. I obsessed about them. I didn’t think about hacking my way to reach my goals. Such a practice backfires in the long term, but I was demotivated when I couldn’t reach my targets in a given week.
A Healthy Attitude toward Numbers
I decided to change my relationship with the numbers of my blog.
- I’ll keep tracking them, but I’ll quit obsessing about them.
- I’ll use them as guides, not as punitive masters.
- I’ll do my best to achieve my goals, but I won’t be attached to the results.
This approach is called high involvement, low attachment. I first read about this approach in the book Supercoach by Michael Neill. The idea is to do your best and let the chips fall where they may.
My New Practice
- Check my numbers once a week. This is what I used to do anyway.
- Brainstorm about action items to meet my targets of the next week.
- Decide on action items to execute in the next week.
- Execute those action items during the week.
- Repeat all the steps every week.
The idea here is to work hard with a positive attitude. There is an optimal mental state for maximum performance. It isn’t being desperate, pessimistic, worried, or anxious. It’s being optimistic, having faith, being motivated, and accepting the results entirely.
Numbers are a critical part of a business. Without the numbers, you don’t have a business. Yet, obsessing about numbers can lead you to make mistakes. Worse, it can lead you to quit altogether.
The solution is to keep tracking the numbers with a healthy attitude, doing your best to achieve your goals, and letting the chips fall where they may.