Three bad ways to measure your daily progress (that we all fall for)

If I stop at the end of a busy day and think, “Did I do a good job today?” I tend to think about 3 things — did I crush my to-do list? Did I win the email battle? And, did I put money in the bank?

But if I stop to think about it, these aren’t great ways for me to measure my performance.

What does my to-do list measure?

If my to-do list is backed up, that’s bad. I’m not keeping the commitments that I’ve made to my team, my clients, and myself. I start to feel overwhelmed and discouraged and like I’m no good at my job. 

But realistically, the chaos on my to-do list is usually a reflection of my overly optimistic self assuming that I can get everything done. It’s certainly not a reflection of my skills, abilities, or hard work. Yes, I need to do a better job at being realistic, and I definitely need to give myself more margin with client deadlines, but the state of my to-do list isn’t really an indicator my overall performance. So maybe that’s not such a good measure?

What does my email inbox measure?

My email inbox is another place where I can start to feel overwhelmed and find shame creeping into my workday. Perhaps there was a day when I aspired to “Inbox Zero”, but today is not that day (and tomorrow doesn’t look good either).  My inbox is a mix of client communication (important), uninvited pitch emails (trash), regular subscriptions (interesting, but not urgent), transactional emails, meeting notices (blech!), task assignments, etc. You get the idea. It’s a mess AND it’s a hodgepodge of stuff — most of which do not relate to my performance as a CEO. 

The fact that the state of my inbox stresses me out is 100% self-imposed and an artificial measure of my performance. In fact, some of the best leaders I know have tens of thousands of unread emails in their inboxes (that is not an exaggeration, I’ve seen numbers like 27,000 and up). I don’t know how they find anything, but it’s not impacting their performance. 

This seems like another unreliable indicator, I think I just need to let this go.

What does my bank balance measure?

Well, surely cash in the bank is a reliable measure of my company performance (and therefore my performance as a CEO), right?

Well, cash is important. Running out of cash for a business is like running out of oxygen for your body. It’s a serious crisis. So, yes, you need cash. And in most cases, more cash is preferable to less cash.

But just because my bank balance is high (the day before payroll) or low (the day after) doesn’t really tell me much about my performance.

Hoarding cash doesn’t make you a great CEO either. Cash is earned to be spent. It’s a way of storing value so that you can use it. So it’s good to see your bank balance increasing — but a more sophisticated question would be — how much cash do you need? What could you use some of that cash, for now, that would make more cash in the future?

Cash is tricky (as any accountant can tell you) so it’s good to have, but not a great predictor of my performance over the short run. 

So how do I know I’m doing a good job? 

Well, I’m glad you asked, more on that come Tuesday.

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