The Focus Course

Using data to achieve your Goals

You can’t accomplish a goal you haven’t defined.

And while words like metric and data remind me of fluorescent lights, we need a way to measure progress. If we’re serious about our goal we need to narrow our focus and this is where data comes in.

Target Practice

While tracking numbers may feel tedious and unrelated to our goal, data is a roadmap to success. It gives us feedback.

Recently I played paintball for a friend’s birthday. In general paintball-guns shoot relatively straight. But the further you try to shoot, the more the paintballs swerve. I found myself shooting in small bursts as I saw where the paintballs hit. With this feedback I able to make adjustments with my aim to shoot more accurately.

To increase your odds of success you need to know what is working and what isn’t. When we set goals with specific data we give ourselves a target to shoot at. When we lack data, it would be like trying to shoot a paintball gun without being able to see where they hit. Shoot in a general direction but have no idea if we’re hitting the target or not.

If you can’t measure what you are trying to accomplish how will you know what success looks like?

Data helps us to draw a line from an action we’ve taken to making progress made on our goal. And when you’re able to connect your actions to progress, that’s a recipe for success.

But the opposite is also true. It’s demoralizing to work hard on something but have no clue if what you are doing is actually moving you toward the larger goal.

Data gives us a target. Data brings clarity.

Any goal worth pursuing is worth measuring. — The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Data plays a massive role in achieving your goals. With the right data, it’s like having a step-by-step playbook coaching you along. Without data, it’s like being lost in a big city looking for a local spot with no Google Maps or GPS. Good luck.

Data is your map. Data is your playbook.

Let’s talk about two different measurements that are helpful when it comes to planning and executing your goals.

Lag and Lead Measures

Lag Measures: are measurements of data that have already happened.

Most of us are familiar with this type of data and likely reference it daily.

  • How much money spent last month
  • Amount of weight lost in a week
  • Monthly page-views
  • Words written

All of these are different types of lag measures. While this data is helpful, no matter how hard we try, we can’t change it. The numbers are merely a reflection of what has already happened.

However, we can use this data to identify benchmarks or desired outcomes.

Lead Measures: are high impact behaviors that change the trajectory of the lag measure. In other words, lead measures are actions or behaviors that have a direct correlation to impacting the lag. Do X and Y will happen.

Unlike lag measures, lead measures are something we have control over.

Lead measures are…

  • Predictive of achieving the goal. If we do this thing, we know that we will see our lag measure move as a result.
  • Influenceable. The behavior or action is within our control.

How to use lag and lead measures

With a basic understanding of lag and lead measures, we can get more specific with our goals and how we’ll go about achieving them.

We use a lag measure to define our goal. Where are we now and where would we like to be?

  • How much do we weigh right now, how much would we like to weigh?
  • How much have we been spending on a monthly basis, versus how much should we be spending every month.
  • How much of our book have we written, compared to the book being finished.

Goals need a starting point, an end, and a specific time frame. In other words, from your current state to your desired state, by this time in the future.

In the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution they say it this way: From X, to Y, by when.

So if a lag measure is what we use to define our goal, lead measures are how we accomplish them.

Remember, lead measures are behaviors or actions that are predictive of achieving our goal and are within our control.

  • At least 30 minutes of daily exercise, limiting ourselves to a certain number of calories consumed
  • Withdrawing cash weekly to limit expendable cash.
  • Focusing on 30-60 minute writing blocks, and setting a weekly minimum of blocks completed.

Lead measures are the levers we pull to achieve our goals. These aren’t set-it-and-forget-it actions, nor are they cookie cutter and guaranteed to hit our goal. BUT, they are high leverage and move us closer to our goal.

Think of a road trip. The goal is to drive from one destination to another. The distance between the two would be the lag measure. The action of getting in the car and starting to drive would be a lead measure. It is predictive of achieving the goal, and it’s within our control.

Just because you’re driving, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get where you want to go. You’ll need directions, you may need to refuel, there may be road closures or detours. But in the end, to make progress you need to be driving. You can always course correct, but without actually pulling out of the driveway and starting your journey, you’re not going to get where you want to go.

Lead measures get us going, then we course correct by refining the action. Certain types of exercise lead to greater weight loss. Eating less calories doesn’t necessarily mean you are eating healthy calories. Changing the type of exercise you’re doing along with the type of calories you are eating brings further leverage to these activities with a weight loss goal.

By focusing on these high leverage activities we get the most return for our efforts in moving toward our goal. And as we refine these lead measures they become even more effective over time.


For the sake of repetition, let’s practice. Pull out a pen and paper, I find it easier to brainstorm goals when writing them out analog.

  1. List out 3 different goals with a starting point, a finish line, and a “completed by” date.
    • Experiment here, pick the first 3 different things that come to mind. Don’t overthink it, this is an exercise in setting clear, defined goals.
    • Example: Build emergency fund from $1,000 to $5,000 by July 1, 2019.

  2. Take one of your three goals and now write 3 different lead measure actions/behaviors that would help you accomplish it.
    • Remember, lead measures are predictive of achieving your goal, and within your control.
    • Lead measures could be qualitative or quantitative. Meaning, you could be seeking to improve the quality of an action or behavior to produce a different outcome. Or, you could increase the quantity of a certain action or behavior. i.e. exercise X amount of time per day. Write X amount of times per week.
    • Lead measure actions should be measured at least weekly if not daily. Time spent works well or very specific actions.

And if this all feels too overwhelming, maybe start here.

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