I recently stumbled across an article that gave me pause, Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring. Here, Leo Babauta, succinctly points out our individual and collective tendency to “track” everything from miles run to hours writing (of which I am dramatically guilty). In a few lines it becomes clear that to track is, in many ways, to distract:
“It takes time to measure and track–that’s valuable time you could have spent doing or living.”
Further, this writing surfaces an honest conversation on the underlying assumptions of any data collection process, noting how choices required for the measurement and tracking are often lost in the presentation of findings. Another interesting thought to consider next time you plan to study something is, how the act of measurement inherently gives importance to the object of measurement. And, ironically, those things we would say bring us the most joy and happiness, like a heartfelt conversation with a co-worker on a coffee break or the embrace of a loved one, are often hard to quantify.
Tracking and measurement can also be stressful because the process requires expectation setting, which will inevitably lead to disappointment, and perhaps feelings of shame or failure.
All this being said, tracking and measuring is obviously important (and for some of the same reasons that it is stressful), the real issue is that it often goes unquestioned. The assumptions that all data is good data and the more the better are becoming dogmatic and can not possibly be healthy. Next time you’re about to step out the door for a run, or sit down at your desk to set up a measurement framework, take a moment to pause and reflect on how your measurement and underlying assumptions may be effecting the process. Then compare your default reactions to your mindful responses, and make a decision, you may be surprised at what you decide and feel better about it too.
The above visual holds a great, but often misattributed, quote…
Quote Investigator (who has a very cool hobby) suggests a 1963 text, “Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking”, by William Bruce Cameron is the source:
It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.