Setting Personal KPIs

We all want to be our best selves. Improving anything starts with one simple step: tracking the right metrics. You can’t fix what you can’t measure.

Companies have been using KPIs for decades to improve themselves. You should use that same methodology and invest in yourself. There are two reasons to do this:

  1. Oil indicator. Good tools report their health to the operator. Your iPhone tells you how much battery is left. Your car tells you the oil temperature. Most of the time these metrics are in the right place, but you observe them to learn if there’s an exceptional situation. Do the same for yourself. Get the “change oil” indicator for your body.
  2. Healthy obsession. You’re going to see a lot of metrics below. This is a hobby. Some people paint. Some people play basketball. I try to become a better person. This is one way I spend my free time. I want to be useful to others in life, and I’d like to be my best self in order to do that.

There are two types of metrics: input (“hours spent in office”) and output (“revenue”). In both organizations and people, it’s best to manage by output alone. It’s often the case that output takes a long time to move (e.g. executive hiring), so input is measured as a semi-useful proxy.

Lastly, I recommend focusing on passive tracking (where possible). If logging the metric requires too much effort, you won’t persist over time.

Resting heart rate (daily). RHR is thought to be a “noisy” but valid indicator for overall health and longevity. Mine is low (38 on a good day) because I run a lot.

Heart rate variability (daily). The science behind HRV is still nascent, but it seems like general consensus that if your variability trends downwards you may be overtraining or getting insufficient recovery. I use this metric as a warning light to ease off working out.

Weight and body fat (daily). I weigh myself daily. I’m not trying to change it, but I find the data useful. For example: my latest investigation is if lots of sodium decreases my sleep quality. I can use my water weight (as measured in day to day fluctuation) as a quasi-proxy for salt intake.

Hours slept (daily). I have tried almost every sleep tracker. My favorite is the Emfit QS. I don’t try to track anything more technical (REM/deep sleep) as I’m skeptical of the measurement accuracy. Instead, I score my sleep on a scale of 1-5 when I wake up. It’s subjective, but the best I’ve got.

Minutes in Z4 (weekly). There are many studies about the benefits of vigorous exercise. I wear a heart rate monitor and use TrainingPeaks to show me how many minutes I spent in “Z4”. Endurance athletes split their heart rate into five zones, Z4 being anaerobic (“a very hard effort”). I try to acquire a few minutes a week in this zone through cycling or running. I am not trying to grow this number, just keep it constant.

Miles run (weekly). Most people track this metric as a goal. For me, it’s a budget. I love running too much. I set a number and try not to exceed it.

Strength (weekly). I’ve used both Fitbod and Strong to measure how much weight I’m able to lift.

Minutes meditating (weekly). I meditate most days using Headspace or just a timer on my iPhone.

Fasting glucose (weekly). I’m at a slight genetic risk for diabetes, so I’m curious about my fasting glucose. It’s cheap and easy to measure. I do it about once a week. You should also get your h1ac tested (see below).

Productivity (weekly). Sadly, this is a subjective measure. Every Sunday, I look at my todo list from the past week and give myself a grade. I email myself the grade and a brief write-up.

Muscle and bone mass (quarterly). I use DEXA scan service a few times a year. You can get pretty far with a scale that uses bioelectrical impedance. You’re not looking for absolute accuracy, just directional accuracy (“am I losing bone mass?”), etc.

Bloodwork (quarterly). I do a full panel on WellnessFX every quarter. It’s expensive. But I’d prefer to skip a few fancy dinners in exchange for critical knowledge about my body. You can also get the mega-panel just once, then focus only on markers that need tuning. For example, I have high mercury levels (eat a lot of fish). I also have high cortisol (probably from reading this book too many times).

VO2 Max (quarterly). VO2 max is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilize during intense, or maximal exercise. It’s motivational for me to see this number go up.

Sit and Reach Test (quarterly). One of my goals this year was to increase flexibility. This is a simple test for your lower back and hamstring muscles.

Cognitive function (annually). I track my Anki recall stats. I also take a bunch of IQ tests throughout the year. (Sadly, I don’t have a good website to point to for this one. Most that I’ve used seem scammy). I don’t expect to dramatically increase my fluid intelligence (I’d love to!), I’m just looking to keep tabs on it staying stable.

Money (quarterly). I have an Excel spreadsheet with my different financial accounts. Every quarter, I manually aggregate my holdings. Every year I set my budget for vacation, clothing, monthly food, etc. I’m not sure I’d want to automate this. I think it’s important to do the work and understand your finances.

MRI (annually). We’ve all heard terrible stories about tumors. In my mind, getting a preemptive MRI is an expensive but sensible insurance investment to confirm you don’t have any. I’ve only done a brain MRI. Doing a full-body MRI is one of my goals this year.

Genetics. Genetic tests (Color, 23andme, etc) are relatively cheap and useful. Some are afraid of what they’ll learn. I understand that, but I’ve found it useful. Genetic testing is like learning what OS you’re running — what exploits to be on the lookout for.

Things I’d like to track better

(There are many of these — just listing some highlights)

Granular productivity. I am genuinely surprised more founders aren’t working on quantifying short-term productivity. Sales is the only job function that can be precisely measured on a short time horizon. It’s impossible to algorithmically measure a managerial output. Or engineering (please don’t tell me to count lines of code). There are solutions to these problems (for a future blog post). Software that automatically quantifies productivity might be the most underrated startup idea ever. More important than blockchain. Or self driving cars. If you did this well, you’d accelerate everything else.

Food. I don’t track calories as I focus on quality, not quantity. But I’d love to track the types of things I’m eating. How much sodium? How much carbohydrate? Active tracking of these stats is burdensome. I’m hopeful one day we have a smart tooth that just keeps tabs on our macros for us.

Mood. We all experience an ebb and flow of energy. Your timeless task should be to reverse engineer what makes you move. What factors cause you to feel good. Unfortunately, the body has a terrible API. Gathering passive metrics about this is hard. I used to have an iOS app that contained only one button. It was called “low energy”. I’d press it when I was feeling blue. I never built a habit around it.

Longevity. There are many hypothesizes about drugs, foods and habits (intermittent fasting) that purport to extend longevity. Do any of them work? To what degree? BioAge Labs is an example of a company working on the incredibly important problem of finding a real biomarker for aging.

Thought patterns. Am I getting better at thinking? Am I thinking about the right things? Was I more distracted this week than last? I’d want a pie chart explaining how my brain spends time, like top on a computer. Sadly, I think I was born 100 years too soon to get this one.

In closing, I should mention that the examples above are what work for me right now. I’m constantly tweaking and interating. Don’t take this post literally. Find out what works best for you. Build a dashboard for your life so that you orient in the right direction. If done correctly, this is a motivational and fun hobby that can help level you up.