How I Leverage The "Focus Metric" To Move My Business Forward
In 2004, I decided to propose to my girlfriend (now wife), Cait Montoya. I wanted to make it an elaborate event, and it involved many of my friends, a local lake, and a snowstorm (that last part was unexpected). I had written and memorized what I wanted to say before I finally made the ask. But, when Cait was in front of me, all of the words disappeared from my mind. I couldn't remember anything, so I did the only thing I could remember. I got down on my knee and asked, will you marry me? Making decisions in crunch time with a load of stress leads our brain to only remember what we've deemed (& practiced) as most important (hopefully!). Thankfully for me and my wife, I still remembered to ask the most important question.
Folding, When The Stakes Are High
In the NBA (professional basketball, go Suns!) draft decision makers spend a boatload of money and time analyzing large quantities of data to help them make the best decision on who they'll add to their basketball team. Unfortunately, all that work is not helpful if they don't distill it into a focused and relevant metric. This is what I call the Focus Metric (In the case of the NBA, I recommend Wins Produced).
When the moment to draft their player arrives, and the stress is high, many decision makers revert to picking a player who scored a lot of points (yay-points), and who made a Final Four NCAA appearance. Unfortunately, these factors are not good indicators of players who actually produce wins for their team in the NBA (shooting efficiency and rebounds are better indicators).
During these stressful decision-making moments we can anticipate our brain getting tunnel vision and amnesia of all the data we've explored, so let's keep it simple and have one or two metrics that act as our pulse check for what is happening. Since most of us are not running NBA teams, we'll channel this helpful insight to our businesses.
Billable Hours Per Day
I freelance full-time, and it's a challenging endeavor. While I believe the benefits outweigh the cost, it doesn't negate moments and seasons of stress. It is during these moments when we must know what we need to do to move forward. If we wait until the crisis comes, we'll end up like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. We also need this focal point to be objective and relevant. It needs to inform our decision-making in an effective way, otherwise, it's useless.
For my freelancing business, I've narrowed down my Focus Metric to billable hours per day. As described in detail in Path Of The Freelancer, I've defined the number of hours I need each day to survive and thrive. For me to thrive, the green zone, my twenty-mile march is 6 billable hours each weekday. As I zoom out, the focus metric becomes 30 hours per week, 130 hours per month, and 1,560 hours per year. Hitting these numbers will allow me to hit my top tier financial goals as a freelancer. While I also have red zone numbers (and yellow, which is the space between) I strive towards hitting my green goals. As the saying goes, I shoot for the stars so if I only hit the moon, I've still made great progress.
Two Daily Check Points
With one clear way to check my progress, I now leverage two daily checkpoints to help me stay on track and move forward. After lunch and at the end of the day, I'll review how many billable hours I've logged. This will allow me to spot check my time-log for errors, but more importantly, it allows me to see how much progress I've made, and what I can do to adjust.
Since I end my workday at 6 pm (that's the goal!), I calculate how much time I have left with how many hours logged to see if I'm on track to hit the target. This daily midday checkpoint helps me refocus if I've been distracted or occupied with non-paying tasks. At the end of the day, I'll check this focus metric again to see how I scored for the day. When I knocked out the 6 hours, I check off the daily task in my Habitica (a habit building tool based on the Power Of Habit [Affiliate Link] ).
After the end of day Wednesday, I'll have three days of billable hours accumulated for the week. This allows me to cross a mid-week checkpoint and see how many hours I've logged for the week, and how many hours I need to hit my top tier, 30 hours goal. I'll do the same thing in the middle of the month, and the middle of the year. It's inspiring to see how effective simply reviewing this one metric can help me stay on track towards my larger financial goal.
What Happens When The Hours Are Unavailable?
Having the numbers and reviewing them is helpful when I've got a pipeline of paying clients. It helps me stay focused and motivated to move forward. But, what happens when I don't have that work readily available?
The power of this Focus Metric is how it allows me to quickly see and respond when this happens. When my income streams dry up, I've already determined the actions to get the engine up and running again. I simply follow through on this plan by getting active online, meeting people regularly, and reaching out to my network of people, starting with recently active clients.
It also acts as a catalyst for building the type of reporting I need for more advanced visibility and responsiveness. For example, I have fast generating projections for my upcoming month. This allows me to identify and overcome gaps in achieving my goals. If I'm going to come up short, I want to know as early as possible so I have the most amount of time to prepare and respond to the challenge.
Embrace Your Focus Metric
In your role, your department, your company, what is the most important metric you can look at to actively see progress (or regress)?
If one comes to mind, it's time to build a cadence around reviewing and responding to it.
If you can't name it, it's time to spend the time discovering your Focus Metric.
Special thanks to Dave Berri and Andrés Alvarez for helping to make this blog post better. If you're curious about Wins Produced, Dave Berri has written books on the topic (affiliate link) and actively contributes on Forbes.com - Andrés writes and podcasts at BoxScoreGeeks.com