Peter Drucker, a 20th century management consultant whose work still influences corporate America today, once wrote that, “what gets measured gets managed.” The concept is powerful—if you weigh yourself daily, for example, you’re more likely to lower that number on the scale if you’re unhappy with it.
Used correctly, metrics drive a positive outcome. Used incorrectly, they drive behavior that can only be described as insane.
That brings me to my Fitbit watch.
I bought the Fitbit watch in late November on a bit of a whim—like most smartwatches, it tracks steps and other basic measurements of daily activity and sleep.
When you hit 10,000 steps, you get a celebratory buzz, and if you fail to walk 250 steps in an hour, you get a punitive buzz. Like a new mother with a crying baby, you quickly discern the nuanced differences between the buzzes.
It’s packed with goals—in addition to the steps, it pushes you to strive for 150 Active Zone minutes each work and seven hours of quality sleep. Fitbit determines what counts as Active Zone minutes and quality sleep using an algorithm that I will never even attempt to understand. Just give me the green check if I hit it.
I love granting myself gold stars for completing tasks, so all these daily targets are catnip to my goal-loving brain. After playing with it for a few weeks, I decided to make a goal of walking an average of 10,000 steps per day in 2022.
Fortunately, I wrote average instead of every day. Because on January 2nd, my Fitbit stopped working.
I talked to Fitbit customer service and they were fantastic about replacing the watch free of charge, but by the time it arrived, four days had gone by.
Four days of zero steps.
And so the app showed a measly 2,000 step average for 2022 so far.
Of course, I had walked some on the zero days. But if a step is taken and is not tracked on a Fitbit, did it really happen?
I decided not.
A normal person would just start from today and try to keep the 10,000 step streak going, but since I’m going to manage what I measure like a good little Drucker devotee, I have to get that average up as soon as possible.
Which means walking more than 10,000 steps per day. I set myself a new little sub-goal of walking 15,000 steps until I get my average back over 10,000. I decided this approximately one hour before the first snow storm of the year.
So out I trudged into the snow with a heavy coat and boots. On a normal day, I get around 5,000-7,000 steps just moving around the house, and then I take a walk to top myself off over 10,000.
But now, I needed 15,000 starting from scratch. I walked and walked through the snow, ignoring my frozen fingers and toes. The snow kept coming, day turned to night, and still I kept walking.
The watch buzzed its celebratory buzz when I hit 10,000.
I kept walking.
Around and around the neighborhood until I hit 15,000. Then I went home and thawed out.
Day two was more difficult—I got 10,000 steps easily enough, but around bedtime I realized I had 3,000 more to go to get to 15,000. Instead of going to sleep I did circles around the living room, up and down the stairs, round and round until I clocked in another few thousand.
I’m not sure this is what Fitbit or Drucker had in mind.
Either way, I’ve got to cut this short—time for a walk.