I’m not a naturally organized or data-focused person.

Excel scares me to death and math is my mortal enemy, but researching my latest book, “Finish” taught me something important:

Data kills denial which prevents disaster.

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Our emotions lie to us all the time, especially in the midst of a big project.

For me as a writer, my emotions will tell me things like, “The last thing you wrote was easier. This shouldn’t be taking this long. If you were a better writer, this would be easier.”

But you don’t have to be a writer to experience that. The same thing happens in other areas of our lives.

“You’re terrible at finishing exercise programs, you should just quit.”

“Your business is barely growing, you’re an awful entrepreneur.”

If our emotions can’t be trusted, what can?

The answer is data.

Data tells you the truth.

Data steps in and says, “No, the last writing project was just as difficult. Look at these numbers, look how long it took.”

Data doesn’t lie. (Read chapter 7 of “Finish” for a full breakdown on how to use data in your goal.)

The problem is, finding the right data to use is sometimes difficult.

As a writer for the last twenty years, the data I’ve tracked for my goals was always the same, word count. I’d tell myself, “Today I am going to write this amount” or “This week I want to write 5,000 words.” And it worked, for a while.

Then I started to notice a huge flaw in that approach – editing.

How do I measure word count if I spent the day editing or tweaking? Was it only new words that counted? If I wrote 1,000 words on Monday and edited them on Tuesday, did I fail on Tuesday?

The system started to get complicated and overwhelming, which is the opposite of what a goal is meant to do.

A goal is supposed to add clarity, not confusion.

So, I started doing something different. Now I measure hours, not words.

Now, instead of getting obsessed with the word count, I focus on keeping track of the amount of hours I’ve written.

Writing counts. Editing counts. Tweaking counts. Staring out the window because I’m not sure if “Troll” or “Goblin” is a better word counts. (It’s goblin by the way.)

The same principle applies to you, no matter what it is you’re working on in your life.

For example, if you’re trying to get healthier, maybe instead of tracking your weight you should measure “time spent working out” instead?

Fight your emotions with data, but make sure it’s the right data. Make sure it brings clarity, and not confusion, to the goal you’re trying to finish.

This idea first appeared on my Writer’s List. If you’d like a new idea on writing emailed to you each week, sign up here.