What Gets Measured Gets Done

Some numbers are really easy to track.

You can keep track of how fast you run, how much money you make, how much you weigh, how many views your website gets. And if you keep a running log of those numbers, you can start to measure how fast they’re changing. You can start to evaluate what actions make the biggest impact on those numbers, figure out the quickest and most efficient way to move the needle, and turn those actions into habits.

Do the action, change the number. Over and over and over again.

What gets measured gets done.

The trouble is that it’s really easy to track the wrong numbers. In fact, sometimes the wrong numbers are the easiest to track.

Seth Godin has a great blog post on measuring from a business perspective, but I think there’s a spiritual insight hiding in it:

Income is easy to measure, and so we fall into the trap that people who make more money are better, or happier, or somehow more worthy of respect and dignity.

Likes are easy to measure, so social media becomes a race to the bottom, where the panderer and the exhibitionist win.

Five star reviews are easy to measure, so creators feel the pressure to get more of them.

But wait!

What does it mean to ‘win’? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?

Here are some easy things to measure in the Christian world:

  • How often you pray
  • How many times you’ve read the Bible
  • How much you give in your offerings
  • How long you spend in study, prayer, and meditation

You can probably add a few other metrics to that list.

And I don’t want to imply that those numbers don’t matter—they do.

But are they the numbers we need to obsess over?

I’m reminded of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, who went into the temple and prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12).

The Pharisee had great numbers. He was ticking all the boxes, even going above and beyond when it came to fasting. Twice a week? That’s impressive.

What gets measured gets done.

Jesus scolded the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).

The Pharisees were so focused on getting one number right—correctly dividing out the impossibly small seeds and leaves of various herbs and spices to give an accurate tithe—that they were completely neglecting something far more important.

And far harder to measure.

How do you measure how much justice you have? How do you track the increase of your mercy? What variables do you need to record to accurately evaluate the amount of faithfulness you possess?

Easier to stay focused on carefully dividing our cumin seeds. That, we can measure easily. That, we can take and say, “Look, I’m doing it right.”

And again—I can’t stress this enough—the tools God gives us for strengthening our relationship with Him are important. We should make sure we’re consistently using them—and using them well. Prayer matters. Bible study matters. Meditation and fasting and fellowship matter.

But they aren’t the goal in and of themselves.

If all you track is the time spent swinging a hammer, but you never consider how accurate those swings are or what you’re even building with that hammer in the first place, then you’re measuring the wrong thing. It’s easy to increase your total time spent swinging a hammer without ever doing anything useful with that hammer.

You can spend all day doing [insert spiritual activity here] and still not change your life in any meaningful way.

Using the tools effectively is more important than just using the tools.

The right numbers are usually harder to measure, but so, so much more important to focus on.

What gets measured gets done.

Justice, mercy, and faithfulness need to get done. Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ needs to get done. The pursuit of the goals will increase the amount of time you spend studying God’s Word and the frequency you spend speaking with Him—but those numbers aren’t a useful shortcut for measuring where we need to be.

Here’s how Seth concludes that post I mentioned earlier:

When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.

On the other hand, when you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.

We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.

“These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

Luckily, we don’t need to figure out what to keep track of—God has already laid those things out for us.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

It’s not always easy, but we’ll get better mileage when we focus on measuring the things God wants done.

The other numbers will take care of themselves.

Until next time,

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