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Start Counting

Count Everything!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” –Chinese Proverb

If you want to be successful, start counting. Why? If you can count, you can keep score and if you can keep score you can win. Want to lose weight? Start counting— Shave off 500 calories a day and you will lose a pound per week. Want to be rich? Start counting— Invest just $100 per month you will save over $175,000 in twenty years (assuming 11 percent annual return which by the way you can achieve in the market if you are counting). Want your kids to be smart? Start counting— 20 minutes a day reading, writing, math practice. Want to run a marathon? Start counting— Write the mileage on your sneakers after each run and count until you get to about 35 miles per week. The bottom line is this: If you dream it, then count it. The magic about focusing on the counting in any endeavor is that it develops good process and good process often translates into good habits. Good habits can change your life.

For those of us that are project managers, tracking and counting is the difference between success and failure on any project. A key trick that I use is to count the specific hours a task will take rather than measuring the “percentage complete” that is typically measured for project status. What is more, I use this count to chart progress in my weekly project team meetings….to see exactly where we are on the timeline. Percent complete is not something that is easily understood…. After all, what does 75% complete actually mean? It is non-specific in almost all cases. If it is 75% complete, does that mean we have 1 hour, 10 hours, 100 hours to completion?

By counting hours, the team will know that John has 2 hours of pure work to complete a task. They also understand that if they are next in line for a hand-off it will not start for at least 2 hours. If John multi-tasks it will be closer to fours or even a couple of days in elapsed duration or time. Counting these dynamics in specific and real measure gives the team a level set expectation of progress each and every time.
The real trick with counting is to make it fun. Don’t focus so much on the outcome. Focus instead simply on the counting. By doing this, you can enjoy the process, improve your attitude about the work and alleviate the pressure or monotony of the project’s daily tasks. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000 Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.

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The tools in the figure above are some popular tracking tools on the market today. The timing cubes made by Datexx are great tools for setting aside 100% focused time on a task. For example, if I know that I have to review a document to get it finalized and it will take 45 minutes, I will set the timer, close down other processes and focus until it is fully done. If I am training for a race, I will use a Garmin to track my progress and cadence challenging myself to a game to see if I can push to a certain “mph” over a designated distance. If I want to work on a professional certification and find myself bogged down with work and family commitments, I will use my “penny in a jar” game. I promise myself 15 minutes of dedicated focus time per day specifically toward my professional goal. If I do the 15 minutes, I put a penny in the jar. It sounds a little corny but, it does work. It takes lofty goals and chops them up into micro goals that are highly attainable, giving me a real sense of progress each and every day.

So, do I count every day? Damn right I do.

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