Personal KPI: The Tools I Use to Measure the Right Things & Give Myself a Productivity Advantage

"What gets measured gets managed." This quote by Peter Drucker hints at a powerful productivity tool that few entrepreneurs make good use of.

Think of it like this: if you measure the wrong things in your business, it's like you're trying to drive with the handbrake on. If you measure the right things, it's a free productivity boost that costs you almost no effort.​

For entrepreneurs, an important way to measure the right thing is in the concept of Personal KPI (key performance indicators), which we introduced in this podcast episode about overcoming perfectionism. In today's post, I'll show you the tools you can use to put this advice into practice.

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Quick Recap: What to Measure

As a quick refresher of what we discussed in the podcast, related to Personal KPI:

  • Online, the easiest things to measure are unfortunately also the worst things to measure. Vanity metrics like pageviews and social media followers are a distraction at best and a hindrance to your progress, at worst.
  • The key is to identify your most important business goals and then examine the things you can do - and that are completely in your control - to work towards those goals.
  • Example: you can't make people give you money, but you can examine where your buyers are coming from. If they come from content marketing, something you can do is write and publish more content. If they come from paid advertising, something you can do is create and A/B test more ads. And so on.

So, the first thing you need to do is identify your Personal KPI. The steps that you can take in your business, that drive the business closer to your goals.

Examples of Personal KPI that you might uncover include:

  • Writing and publishing blog content.
  • Starting A/B tests on your key pages.
  • Creating and publishing new lead magnets.
  • Starting A/B tests on lead generation forms.
  • Publishing and testing new ad creatives.
  • Reaching out to bloggers and website owners, asking to guest post.
  • Reaching out to influencers, asking for collaborations, joint webinars, cross promotions, etc.
  • Contacting people with your Free Trial Coaching offer.

Note how all of these are things you can do and count. For example, we're not counting how many bloggers agree to let you publish a guest post (that's not under your control), we're counting how many guest post pitches you send out (that is under your control).

The Mountain & the Steps

An analogy for what we're doing here is this: your goal is to reach the peak of a mountain. Your Personal KPI is "taking steps". It's breaking down the goal into the steps you can (and must) take in order to reach it.

Meet the Tools

The application of Personal KPI only works if you actively measure the actions you take, so that you can visualize your progress over time. There are two ways to measure your Personal KPI: by measuring instances and by measuring time spent.

Measure Instances Using Nomie 2

Nomie is an app available for Android and iOS. What makes it unique is that it's not only made for creating or tracking habits (for which there are hundreds of apps). Instead, it's built to track any kind of behavior over time, in any way you want. Also, the data is private and not stored in the cloud, which is a nice bonus.

In Nomie, you can create a board that contains all of your business related Personal KPI that could look something like this:

Each one of your KPI is represented as a tile on the board. Whenever you've completed a task, you just tap the tile and one instance is measured along with a timestamp.

You have a lot of flexibility in setting up exactly what you want to measure as well as how it should be measured. Here are some of the options available when setting up a new tracker in Nomie:

For each of your trackers, you can also get detailed stats about when, how often and where you tracked them.

You can also use Nomie to track time spent, but I find it's not ideal for that. Instead, I use it to track instances of my Personal KPI. It's really simple: whenever I complete one of my Personal KPI goals, I tap the corresponding tile in Nomie. Over time, I can see exactly how many blog posts I've finished, how many landing pages I've created, how many deep work sessions I've done and so on.

A Note About Lead Indicators vs. Lag Indicators

Note that I track whenever I finish a blog post, not when I publish one. Similarly, I track when I've recorded a video, not when it gets published. The reason is that publishing is dependent on other factors that aren't in my control. Designs need to be finished, videos need to be edited, content needs to be fit into editorial calendars...

The publishing of content is a lag indicator: it indicates that I've done some work, but it does so days, weeks or sometimes months after I've done the work. I don't want there to be a disconnect like that between my work and what I track. That's why I track the lead indicators, which represent me, finishing my part of the work.

Track Time Spent Using Toggl

Toggl is a time tracking app that I already mentioned in my post about 11 affordable marketing automation tools.

If you want to primarily track time based goals, this is a better choice than Nomie. That means Toggl is great for KPI like "spend X hours writing" rather than "write and publish X blog posts".

If you aren't sure which you prefer, I recommend trying both, since most KPI can be formulated in a time based and a instance based way. I personally prefer tracking instances, because I generally like to focus on shipping more than on time spent. However, you may respond differently.​

Using Toggl is dead simple: when you start something, you hit the "play" button. You then write a description of what you're doing (I like to keep this super short) and add a project and tag.

Adding a new timer in Toggl

Activity log overview

Note that your time spent is primarily sorted by projects. To analyze time spent by tags, you need to export your data.

I recommend that you are 100% strict about your time tracking. For example, if you take a bathroom break, pause your timer and resume it when you return to work. Even if it's a very short break.

Why?

Because doing so provides an added bonus from using Toggle to track your time manually: it forces you to be deliberate about how you spend your time. You focus on the task you're currently tracking until you decide to do something else, at which point you stop the timer.

Take this approach seriously and it can act as a "brain hack" to make you more focused.

Use Spreadsheets for Everything Else

Last but not least, anything you can't do in any of those apps, you can probably do in a good ol' spreadsheet. You can measure almost anything that matters with one or both of the tools above. If neither of them are the right match for what you need, I recommend you start tracking whatever you need to track using a spreadsheet.

I make this recommendation for one reason above all else: it's better to use an imperfect method like a spreadsheet to track your Personal KPI than to keep looking for the "perfect" tool, before you start tracking.

An example of a spreadsheet put to use like this is my "big picture" tracking sheet for 2018.

A Note About Failing Systems

I've presented several tools here and you may be wondering: which one is best? There's no right answer to this question. I recommend that you give each a try and then pick one or two that work for you.

Personally, I don't use all of these tools at the same time. At the time of writing, I'm using Nomie and spreadsheets for everything. I'm currently not using Toggl. However, I also know that a system that works for me now may stop working for me at some point (Dave talks about this in our group podcast episode). This is quite normal. When Nomie stops working for me, I'll switch to Toggl. When that stops working, I'll switch back to Nomie. When both stop working for me, I'll look for something new.

Tell Me About Your Results​​​​

I've shared the simple but powerful tools I use to measure what matters and give myself a productivity boost. Now, I'd love to hear from you: do you have your own methods of tracking Personal KPI? If not, try the apps shown here and let me know how it works for you!

Shane's Signature

About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Demian says:

    A good tool for working in little chunks with scheduled breaks (best way to work) is http://www.kanbanflow.com/

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for the tip, Demian!

  • Una Doyle says:

    I use Trello and Pomello, a time tracking app that integrates with Trello. (Both are free).

    I find having the Pomello in the corner on my screen works better for me – I couldn’t see how to do that with Toggle?

    Which is a shame cos Pomello uses up processing power.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for the tips!

      Toggle has a desktop app you can use and I guess you could have that in a minimized window in the corner of your screen. Not sure if you can “always on top” it. I’ve not used it myself, I use just the mobile app.

  • Francesco P. says:

    The best desktop tool I use for tracking time spent is Time Doctor. With Time Doctor I don’t have to recall that I have to launch it and manually track time, because at the right time his pop-up appears. https://www.timedoctor.com

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for the tip, Francesco.

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