Metrics – Adding Tracking Data

In Using Metrics To Track Your Progress we discussed creating a new Metrics entry.  For a new metric to be useful we need to show progress and for that we need to add Tracking Data.  For demonstration purposes we’ll continue using the weight tracking metric.

There are two ways to add Tracking Data to your metric:

Method 1: If you already have the metric’s information form open, go the Tracking tab, click anywhere in the Tracking Values grid area, then press your keyboard’s Insert key.  The Metric Tracking Entry form should appear to help you enter the tracking data. The date is defaulted to Today’s date.

You can add as many entries as you want using this method.

Method 2: Shortcut

If you are working from the Metrics tab in the main Achieve Planner form…

Step 1: Go to the Metrics tab (Go -> Metrics menu item)

Step 2: Click once, anywhere within the row of the metric to which you want to add tracking data

Step 3: Use the Actions -> Add Tracking Entry menu item.

The same Metric Tracking Entry dialog will appear so you can enter the tracking data.

This method is great when you just want to quickly make an entry and don’t want to view all the details of the metric.

Tracking Entry Information

The tracking entry for a metric consists of the following fields…

Value: The current value (in this example weight in pounds) that you want to enter

Target: The expected or target value for the metric at this point in time… we’ll come back to this in the next article. For now, leave it blank.

Date: The date the value was measured, whether it’s today’s date or a previous date.

Type (pull-down menu): Choices are “Cumulative”, “New Total”, or “Instance”.  We’ll explore “Instance” and “Cumulative” in future articles. For now choose “New Total”.

The type usually matches the Metric’s overall type and you usually don’t have to change it.

Our completed form now looks like this:

Click OK to add the tracking entry to the metric, which you can see in the Tracking tab of the Metric’s Information Form:

If you’ve been tracking your weight some other way (like Post-It notes or your previous dayplanner), the Achieve Planner Metrics feature can reduce your paper load, simplify your life, and make it easy to have all your information at your fingertips for weight tracking.

Adding Tracking Entries From The Metric Reminder Screen

Remember that if you set a metric tracking reminder it will only occur once each day, at the time you’ve set.  That reminder will look the same as reminders used for appointments/events:

If you have more than one reminder due at the same time, they will all appear in the window.

To enter a tracking entry for the metric from the Reminder Window, just dismiss the reminder. Achieve Planner will ask you if you want to add a tracking entry for the metric. Select Yes to add a tracking entry, No to skip it.

NOTE: Once you’ve added one or more tracking entries, you may see a graph on the main Metrics tab, below the rows of entries. We’ll discuss that graph and the ways it can be changed in a future article.

Snooze: just like your bedside alarm clock, you can highlight a particular reminder, choose a time from the drop down list, then click Snooze and the reminder will disappear for that length of time. Each reminder in the list can have a different snooze time.  Or you can highlight one or more reminders and set the same snooze time for all highlighted.

Mini-Break: clicking this button will automatically set the reminder to re-appear in 10 minutes – no additional time setting is needed.  (For more information on mini-breaks and their benefits see the Get More Done In Less Time ebook and course.)

If you’re using AP Metrics to track your weight or any other important things, how has it benefitted you?  We invite you to add your comments below.

Using Metrics To Track Your Progress

There’s an old saying that “what gets measured gets done.” But all too often we rely on just our gut or intuition to asses our progress on our projects or goals.

Trusting that we will somehow have an inherent awareness of our progress might work for very simple jobs, like painting a room where we can easily see the status of the four walls around us, but this strategy can quickly fall apart if we use it for larger projects or goals that take time to complete.

A metric is a measurement of some kind that allows you to track your progress over time. For example, think of the odometer in your car which tells you how many miles you’ve traveled in a trip. That is one simple metric that almost everyone is familiar with.

Metrics are useful because they help you see your progress over time, which can be motivating, and they help you see when you are getting off-track so you can make a course correction.

Another good example of a metric is keeping track of your weight. Maybe you want to see the effects of a new diet or weight loss program, maybe you want to add a few extra pounds of muscle down at the gym, or maybe you just want to maintain and stay at your current weight.

It’s actually quite difficult to notice subtle weight gains or losses as they are happening if you don’t weigh yourself on a regular basis. Over the years, you can easily gain 10 or 20 pounds without even noticing. Even if you weigh yourself regularly, it’s difficult to see the fluctuations and overall patterns if you just keep track of it in your head.

Achieve Planner offers a simple but very useful Metrics tracking feature that makes it simple to keep track of what’s important to you.

You can access it using the Metrics tab (available from the Go menu). When you open the tab for the first time, you’ll see a blank slate, waiting for you to tell Achieve Planner what you want to track.

Let’s keep using the weight example to explore the Achieve Planner Metrics feature.

Creating a Metric

To add a new metric, press the Insert key or use the Insert menu.

By default, the following columns are displayed:

  • Active – Whether the metric is active or inactive
  • Priority – Allows you to prioritize and order metrics
  • Title – Title for the metric
  • Category – Category of the metric useful for filtering & grouping
  • Question – The question that you’ll ask yourself to enter the new metric value. For example, “How much do I weigh today?”
  • Target – The target value that you want to reach (for example, the weight that you want to reach)
  • Last Value – The last value that you entered for the metric
  • Status – The status of the metric (for example, if it’s overdue)

Personalizing Your Metric

Now that you’ve created a metric, it’s time to personalize it to help you track your weight.

Double-click anywhere on the new metric row to open up the Metric Information Form, which lets you customize your Metric in detail.

First, give the Metric a descriptive name, like “My Weight.”  Skip the Owner field for now and move on to the Category field, where you can choose to type in a Category name. This helps you group or filter related metrics together. For this example, a good category name might be “Health” or “Weight Tracking” if you want to be more specific.

Using a more specific category might be useful if you want to keep a handle on other metrics related to your weight tracking experience, like “minutes spent riding the bike.”

The next field is Recurrence, and to edit this field you will have to click on the Set Recurrence button beside the grayed out text box.  This will pop up a screen that allows you to control how often you want to track this Metric, with daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly options.

If you want, you can also choose a time range that begins and ends the tracking period for the Metric.  Most people tracking their weight would do so on a daily or weekly basis, so choose one of those options and then click the OK button.

After setting the recurrence pattern for the metric, you have to decide whether you want Achieve Planner to remind you about tracking the Metric or not.

Checking the Has Reminder checkbox will let you schedule a daily reminder at a specific time.

The remaining two fields on the screen, Description and Reason allow you to describe the metric in more detail and specify why you want to keep track of this particular Metric.

Tracking Data For Your Metric

The Tracking tab helps you specify the type of metric that you are tracking and what kind of tracking information you want to maintain.

We’ll go over this tab in more detail in another article, but for now, we are going to focus on the Type, Question and Units.

From the Type combo, we are going to select Total because we want to track our total weight (current weight) over time.

Next is the Question, where you can type a question that the Metric will ask you when it’s time to input data.  Let’s go with “What is my weight today?”

Next, we’ll define the Units, which simply serve as a reminder of the units of measurement you are tracking. You can use Pounds, Kg or anything else you like.

Once you are finished, click the Save and Close button.  You should now be back at the Metrics tab, with your new Metric showing on the screen.

So far, we’ve only set up the Metric so that we can start to keep track of it. In future articles, you’ll learn how to enter tracking data, how to set target values you want to reach and how to use other types of metrics.

Using The Next Action List

Achieve Planner supports the concept of a ‘Next Action List’ for projects in the master Outline and Task Chooser.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to create and plan a project for a birthday party, and then use the Next Action List to focus in on the next actions for this project.

Here is what the birthday party project looks like in the Outline:

The main ‘Plan Party’ project has three sub-projects, ‘Make Reservations’, ‘Order Cake’, and ‘Print Invitations’.

The reason these are sub-projects is that they represent multi-step parts of the main project that are somewhat independent of each other, and one could conceivably make progress on them in parallel.

Depending on your preferences, and how you use Achieve Planner, you could also represent them as top-level tasks of the ‘Plan Party’ project instead of sub-projects.

Viewing the Next Action List in the Outline

You can toggle the display of the ‘Next Action List’ in the master outline using the Next Actions Only checkbox available in the Outline tab, or using the equivalent keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+8).

When the ‘Next Action Only’ mode is enabled, the outline is filtered so that only ‘next action’ tasks are displayed under each project.

There are two definitions of ‘Next Actions’ for this list: a simpler ‘basic’ version for new users, and an ‘advanced’ version for more experienced users who want more freedom in defining what a next action is.

You can change the definition of ‘Next Action’ used by Achieve Planner in the Next Actions tab of the Options Dialog (Tools -> Options) as I describe later in this article.

Using the Basic ‘Next Action’ Definition

By default, ‘Next Action’ tasks are defined as the highest priority tasks under each project in the Outline priority sort order.

This is what the ‘Plan Party’ project would look like with the Next Actions List filter turned on.

You’ll notice that the Outline now only shows one task under each sub-project following the Outline priority sorting order.

NOTE: Starting with the 1.9.6 release, if you have multiple A1 tasks under a project, they will ALL show up as Next Actions since they all share the highest priority. This definition allows you to have multiple next actions under a single project.

When you complete a task in any of these sub-projects, the next available task under that project is displayed. For example, this is what the outline looks like when you’ve completed the ‘Find location’ task of the Make Reservations project…

You can see the next action ‘Call to make reservations’ is now in the list.

Next Action Settings

The Options dialog (Tools -> Options) has some settings that control the display of the Next Action List in the Outline and Task Chooser.

‘Use task predecessor for “Next Action Only” lists’ controls whether to use the basic (unchecked) or advanced (checked) definition of ‘Next Action.’ It’s set to basic definition by default.

‘Hide Result Areas that don’t contain children’ controls whether to hide result areas that don’t contain children when displaying the Next Action list in the master outline.

‘Hide D priority items in “Next Actions Only” list’ controls the display of D priority items (and their descendants) in the Next Action list of the master outline. If the box is checked, then D priority items and their descendants will not be included in the next actions list.

If ‘Filter Outline to only show items with tasks’ is checked, whenever the ‘Next Actions Only’ mode is turned on, the Outline tab will automatically be filtered in the Icon column so that only items containing tasks are included in the list.

The filter is automatically removed when ‘Next Actions Only’ mode is turned off. You can use this setting to control the display of projects/sub-projects that don’t have any next actions available.

Click here to download a free 30 day trial of Achieve Planner to test drive this feature and see if it will work for you.

Using the Advanced ‘Next Action’ Definition

If you want more control over which tasks are ‘Next Actions,’ you can use the advanced definition by enabling it from the Options dialog.

With the advanced definition, ‘Next Action’ tasks are defined as tasks that either don’t have predecessor tasks defined or that only have completed predecessor tasks.

In the birthday party planning project example, let’s say that the predecessor relationships between the various tasks look like this…

In this diagram, each box represents a task and the arrows point to the predecessor task. For example, before you can do the ‘Print Invitations’ task, you must do the ‘Make Invitation List’ task first. That’s why ‘Make Invitation List’ is the predecessor.

As you can see, you can have predecessor tasks in a different project. In this example, ‘Make Invitation List’ is also a predecessor for ‘Find Location’, because you can’t find a suitable location until you know how many people are invited.

You can establish the task predecessor relationship between tasks using the Task Predecessor field/column available in the Outline and Tasks tabs.

The Task Predecessor column is available in the ‘Active Planning’ view of the Outline. You can also add it to any of the other views using the ‘View -> Customize Current View’ command.

This is how you would represent these predecessor relationships in the Active Planning view of the Outline.

You can see the relationships between the tasks in the Predecessor column. For example, you can see that ‘Make invitation list’ is a predecessor for ‘Find location’, ‘Select from catalog’ and ‘Print invitations’ because its task row number (#16) is in the predecessor column for these three tasks.

There are two ways to establish a predecessor relationship between two tasks:

1) Enter the Row Number (the number in the gray header at the start of each row) of the predecessor task in the Task Predecessor cell for the dependent task.

For example, task # 16 ‘Make invitation list’ is a predecessor of Task # 17 ‘Print invitations’ because the number 16 is in the Task Predecessor cell for row # 17.

2) Another way to establish predecessor relationship between tasks is to use the Actions -> Link Tasks command, which helps you establish this type of predecessor relationship based on the order of the tasks in the Outline.

You need to select all the task rows that you want to link, and then use the Actions -> Link Tasks command to link them in the order they appear in the Outline.

Here is what the Next Actions List for the party planning project looks like when you turn the ‘Next Actions Only’ mode on using the advanced next action definition that uses task predecessors.

You can see that ‘Make invitation list’ is the only task shown. The list also includes sub-projects ‘Make Reservations’ and ‘Order Cake’ since they are sub-projects rather than tasks.

Having these ‘empty’ sub-projects in the list reminds you that there are parts of the Plan Party project that you can’t advance because you don’t have any available next actions.

NOTE: You can choose not to see these ‘empty’ sub-projects by changing some of the settings as I describe later in the tutorial.

Here’s what the list looks like when you complete the ‘Make invitation list’ task.

The previously dependent tasks are showing as next actions because their predecessor task is now completed.

The ‘OOV’ in the Predecessor field indicates an “out-of-view” predecessor that is not visible in the current view. In this case, this is the task you just completed that is not visible in the Active views. To change or remove these predecessors, switch to the ‘All Items’ view.

Filtering ‘Empty’ Projects & Sub-Projects

To automatically hide empty projects and sub-projects from the Next Actions Only display, you need to enable the ‘Filter Outline to only show items with tasks’ setting in the Options dialog.

Here is what the original Next Action Only list (advanced NA definition) looks like when this setting is enabled.

As you can see, the ‘empty’ sub-projects under the Plan Party project are now filtered out of the display. You can tell that the column filter is active because the funnel icon on the Icon column header is blue.

You can change or disable this filter manually by clicking on this funnel icon and selecting (All) from the dropdown.

Multiple ‘Next Actions’ Under a Project

One of the advantages of the ‘advanced’ next action definition is that it allows you to have multiple Next Actions under a project or sub-project based on the task predecessors.

For example, if we add a ‘Buy Stamps’ action to the ‘Print invitations’ sub-project that is independent of the ‘Print invitations’ action, the resulting Outline would look like this:

Also notice that we’ve now made Task ‘Send out invitations’ (#19) dependent on both ‘Print invitations’ (#17) and ‘Buy stamps’ (#18) because you can’t send out the invitations until you do both.

Here’s what the Next Action List looks like when you complete the ‘Make invitation list’ task:

You can see that both ‘Print invitations’ and ‘Buy stamps’ are now shown as possible next actions. Furthermore, ‘Send out invitations’ will only be displayed in the Next Action List when both of these tasks are completed.

NOTE: You can accomplish something similar in the basic next action list by having multiple tasks with the highest priority.

Viewing Next Actions in Task Chooser

The Task Chooser can also be used to display a ‘Next Actions Only’ list by changing some of its task chooser settings for a view.

Checking the “Only show next action(s) for project” limits the display of tasks in the task chooser to next actions using the same interpretation used in the Outline with the following exceptions:

1) The task chooser next action setting can be overridden at the project level using a checkbox available in the Project Information form’s general page

2) To produce the same next action list as the Outline when using the ‘basic’ definition of next action, you also need to check the “Use task priority order for next project actions” box in the settings.

Using the ‘Basic’ Next Action Definition

For the basic next action definition, you just need to check both of the boxes in the Task Chooser settings for the current view…

Here is what the task chooser looks like with these settings changes for the “Best Personal” view of the task chooser…

Using the Advanced Next Action Definition

For the advanced Next Action definition, the same setting “Only show next action(s) for projects” needs to be checked in the task chooser views, but the “Use task priority order for next project actions” needs to be UNCHECKED.

Here is what the Next Action list looks like in the task chooser when the advanced definition is enabled in the Options.

Now only the ‘Make invitation list’ task is shown because the task predecessors are hiding the other two tasks shown in the previous view.