First let me state this for the record: I am a numbers geek! And not just a passing sort of geek who tracks his spending and net worth on his blog. Oh no, I am in fact a professional engineer number geek who worked at creating corporate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track the company’s environmental performance. I lived, ate and breathed data and calculations during my career. I created Excel sheets and databases that give people the sweats just looking at them and take over 20 pages of documentation on how to use one of them.
So when I tell you I’m starting to care less about numbers in my retirement that should strike you as a bit shocking. After all most of my personal self worth was defined by numbers like:
- How many steps I took in a week according to my FitBit app on my work phone.
- How much my net worth increased each month.
- How many words I could write in a day on a novel.
Yet as I’m spending more of my time just enjoying life after leaving my job I’m been reminded that the best things in life can’t be measured or quantified by numbers. You don’t measure:
- The pleasure of an afternoon nap.
- Or the colour saturation of fall leaves as you go on a walk.
- The satisfaction of fixing something by yourself.
And this shift can be incredibly difficult for a numbers geek like me. After all I used to more or less live by the phrase: what gets measured gets managed. So to not measure things on purpose initially feels wrong or sacrilegious to me but I’m starting to realize that just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should.
Case in point is I am no longer tracking my steps during a week. My old work phone allowed me to track that without any extra hardware by just installing the FitBit app. So I used to review that daily to see how I was doing. And initially that information was useful, it helped me get into the habit of taking walks during my lunch break at work. Yet after I quit my job, I handed that phone back in the work phone and my new phone doesn’t allow that sort of tracking. So I could break down and buy a tracking device but I choose not to do that to see what the difference was. After all, if I missed it I could ask for a tracking device for Christmas.
And here is the thing, if I was tracking my steps I would guess I am moving more after leaving work but I no longer care about how many steps I take in a day. I used to feel guilty at the end of the day if I didn’t hit my daily goal when I was tracking or I would do silly things like walk around the house just before bed double checking the locks just to hit my target. Where as now I know I have my busy days where I walk more and less busy days where I walk less. So my activity level seesaw during the week but the point is I feel good about my activity level so who cares what number is associated with that level. In short, I care more about how I feel than an objective number telling me how I should feel. And for a numbers geek like me that is a bit of a break through. I will say I still miss knowing an exact number but I have been beginning to see sometimes that the un-measurable in life is the better way to gauge your life.
And this is starting to bleed into the rest of my tracking in my life. So while I do have a goal on my Goodreads account for books to read this year (80 in case you are wondering) I no longer care if I hit a particular number. Why? Because last year I realized I was putting off reading some particularly long books because it would lower my count for the year. The tracking was starting to pervert my decision making to things I never intended by the tracking in the first place. The point of the reading books goal was to make time in my life to read, not to favour shorter books over longer ones that I really wanted to read.
Yet the one item with respect to numbers that I still am struggling with is tracking my financial performance because on the one hand I need to know if things are going off the rails with my retirement plan but at the same time I want to live my life instead of just checking some numbers. So what is the right frequency of checking? I currently do it monthly out of habit but should I switch to quarterly or just do an annual check in? I don’t know because sometimes looking at the numbers put my mind at ease while other times I find them stressing me out. I suspect the answer might be keeping the monthly for the next year or so to let me get used to this new life of using my assets instead of just growing them, but at some point I would like to be able to care less about my net worth and more about just living my life.
So my fellow number geeks, what are your thoughts on tracking things in your life?