4 min read

How to Use Metrics Wisely, Instead of Letting Them Manipulate You

Just because you can measure it doesn’t mean it’s worth pursuing
Mirror-fronted skyscraper
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Greetings friends.

Except for the Friday I drove myself to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, I never missed a day of work for 25 years.

And I don’t even count that as a missed day because I only left work at lunchtime. It was just my luck my appendix waited until Friday afternoon, and I was back to work on Monday.

I confess, I never met a metric I didn’t immediately want to dominate. It took me a long time to realize how much chasing success cost me.

I still use metrics in my life, but I’m much more deliberate about which ones I choose. Here’s why.

Metrics Are Fantastic Tools … to Manipulate People

You’ve probably heard this saying: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Makes perfect sense, if what you want to do is manage people.

I’ll propose a variation, which is “If you can measure it, people will focus on it.” That may not sound profound, so let’s add this modifier “… to the exclusion of everything else.”

My thesis for you is this: your primary focus in your life and at work should be on looking behind the metrics that are presented to you by others.

  • Challenge your assumptions about what is meaningful.
  • Or, if you prefer, just because you can measure it doesn’t mean it’s worth pursuing.
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You can count them, go ahead | Image by

What’s Important at Work?

This one’s easy, right? You are successful in your career in proportion to how much you grow the following:

  • Your salary and benefits
  • Your titles and promotions
  • The number of people you manage
  • The size of your budget or business

Depending on your specialization, you will have additional metrics: number of new clients; growth in sales; the number of patents filed, contracts drafted, or lawsuits won, etc.

The point is not the specific metric so much as its very existence.

For what do all these metrics signal? Very clearly, they shout that your success is a function of how much you contribute to things that cause your company to succeed.

Your Company’s Success is Not Your Success (Necessarily)

Was I an idiot for focusing on never missing a day’s work? Whom did it benefit for me to haul myself into the office when prudence would dictate resting when I caught the flu?

Even if you are a sole proprietor, and thus entitled to the full benefits of your labor, you are a fool to set yourself the goal of chasing the same metrics as everyone else.

Why is that, you ask?

Because who said the things your company wants are the same things you want?

  • What comes with a promotion? More responsibility and stress.
  • What comes with a bigger team? More administration and HR tasks.
  • What comes with a bigger budget and business? More work and aggravation.

Perhaps some of you are thinking, “Sure, James, all true. But I notice you didn’t say anything about the bigger salary. Tell me now why it isn’t wonderful to make more money.”

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More isn’t always better, is it? | Image by

What Happens to People Who Orient Their Lives Around Money?

When you orient your life around making money, you will likely find ways to achieve your goals. I’ve seen many people go down this path, only to live frantic, miserable lives, no matter how much they accumulate.

Except for people clawing themselves out of poverty, for whom extra earnings are not only necessary but welcome, it’s a rare person who finds themselves genuinely happier when they pursue more money.

Why seek something if it brings you only responsibility, stress, work, aggravation, and unhappiness? Because everyone else is seeking it? That’s no good reason.

The Only Two Questions You Should Ask Yourself

  1. What do I truly want in life (e.g. happiness, meaning, fulfillment, etc.)?
  2. What will help me achieve what I truly want?

What your company wants and what your colleagues are doing is utterly irrelevant to giving you insight into what you want.

Your only hope in answering these two questions honestly is to put aside for a time the metrics that everyone else is pursuing.

  • You may find that it is time spent with your family that brings you joy.
  • Or that a generous devotion to your health and well-being makes you thrive.
  • Perhaps it is donating your time and efforts to helping others that drives meaning.

Whatever your levers to happiness, I say be blinkered no longer by the metrics others place in your path.

Choose your own goals and let your own metrics guide you.

Be well.

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I posted a version of this article on Medium originally.