Thursday, March 20, 2008

Numbers Don't Lie?

By Karen D. Swim

I have a strange relationship with numbers. I love the logic of numbers and can get infinitely lost in statistics and measurements. I also have an obsessive streak so numbers that tell an unflattering story can send me into a tailspin.

When you do business on the internet numbers play an important role in your business - page rankings, visitor stats, product sales, number of subscribers, traffic, conversions, etc. You can become lost tracking and measuring those numbers to unravel the answer to the question of “How am I doing?”

However, an over reliance on numbers can harm the way you do business and may even hinder your growth.
I used to weigh myself every day. The numbers were either a comfort or a curse, but they were black and white and required no interpretation. I became fixated on my daily obsession, the numbers the measurement of my ongoing efforts to remain fit and healthy.

As I progressed on my fitness journey, I decided to run a marathon. I had never been a runner and was not sure I even knew how, nevertheless I had made my decision. Numbers played a new role, pacing per mile, negative splits, mileage, finish times and more. I kept track of all my new numbers with charts, graphs, running logs and a runner’s watch.

Numbers also played heavily in my work life. I worked in sales and numbers meant everything. Quotas, profitability, rankings, and commissions were all part of the numbers game. I ran so many excel spreadsheets that I soon began to dream in grids and equations.

In every area of my life, I could measure my efforts by the numbers. Had I worked hard enough? Was I making smart choices? The numbers would tell me, or so I thought.
I have learned that the numbers provide data but the data is only one part of the story. Your finish time in a race is a snapshot of the ending but does not represent the journey that got you there, nor the next phase that lies ahead. I am learning to relax and trust my instincts sometimes in defiance of the number.

As a blogger I could drive myself insane with statistics. Who’s reading, how many are reading, who dropped off and why? Yet, if I am driven by numbers will I miss the opportunity to take risks and in doing so grow as a writer? Will I be so concerned with “image” that I will not allow my true voice to be heard?

Not every blog post will be a masterpiece. In fact, most will be ho-hum, some will be absolute garbage and once in awhile I will pen the near perfect piece. I cannot however, get to the great piece without simply writing and giving myself permission to fail.

In writing, running and life I am learning to enjoy each step that I take. I still review numbers and I continue to challenge myself to beat them but I no longer allow those numbers to hold power over me. I am quite happy to take one step at a time and focus on giving that step all that I have in that moment.

What about you? What role do the numbers play in your life?

Photo Credit: Brave Heart at Flickr


liveslessordinary said...

I must admit, Karen, that I don't have a great relationship with figures. I don't own scales, so I have no idea what I weigh. I don't even use scales for cooking very often. I was always really struggled when it came to maths at school, and I can't get my head around accounts, bills, or tax assessments. Fortunately, I married a math/physics teacher, who does 'get' numbers, otherwise I suspect I'd be in a real mess by now!
However, when I first started blogging, my stats became really important to me - the first time really that I became passionate about numbers! I've learned over time to not get so fixated on them, and just accept that they go up and down for no real rhyme nor reason. Now I measure my 'success' through how good I feel about a post, and the kind of reaction it gets from others. I think it's maybe a healthier approach to blogging, and it's what will keep you going for the long haul.

Words For Hire said...

I agree Amy! But at least you're brave enough to look at your stats. I know myself well and am not quite ready for internet numbers yet! Once I get my "sea legs" I'll chance a peek. Thank you for sharing Amy. ;-)


Joanna Young said...

Hi Karen, I didn't realise you'd written this when I sent that comment on Twitter. But thinking of the 'stats' as people really does make a difference.

I use several different ways to track who's calling by, my favourite is hittail because it focuses on the search terms people are using. I like thinking about the people on the other side of the world searching for something or another (often fairly odd!) and finding me. Might be worth a look.


PS Your point on what we can count vs what counts reminded me of a post I wrote - remember it?

Words For Hire said...

@Joanna, yes I do remember and I'm glad you brought it to mind. :) Very good insight and I never thought of using hittail for the blog. Thanks Joanna!


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