Benchmarking: A totally professional excuse for reading so much email

I read a lot of email. Seriously. A lot of email!

I especially read a substantial number of emails written by fellow online coaches and marketers preaching that we should manage our time more effectively by reading less email and fewer info products.

The key, they claim, is to understand exactly why we read so much of this stuff. Here are some of their reasons you can try on for size:

•    You are searching for the perfect factoid that will instantly solve all your problems
•    You lack self-confidence
•    You enjoy reading and study more than taking action
•    You procrastinate on doing what needs to be done so you lull yourself into feeling like you are taking action by reading or watching videos instead of doing something
•    You need more knowledge
•    You have too much knowledge to focus on a single action step

I’ve guiltily weighed each of these in my mind and declared myself guilty of each one from time to time. And since I can be a real self-analysis hypochondriac, I even consider multiple weaknesses at the same time. Like how I may simultaneously fear success and fear failure.

The solution, they say, is to exert greater discipline in what we choose to read.

Therefore, I try to implement rules to prevent myself from wasting the work day.
Like starting to write articles and blog entries before reading the new day’s emails. Or occasionally removing myself from a list I am on. Or more likely, not terminating anything but instantly deleting emails from people who do not resonate with me.

And most important, writing on a daily post-a-note the two or three most important things I will accomplish that day and reviewing the note throughout the day.

However, I sensed something was missing from this list of why I read so much. Recently I placed my finger squarely on a concrete reason that had been frustratingly elusive.

I read advice and sales communications because I am hungry to benchmark my work.
I am on a quest for hard data.

Have you ever heard of benchmarking? If you live your business life in e-circles, probably not.

But back when I worked in larger companies, it was all the rage.

Benchmarking is the collection of hard performance data, applied in determining how your company’s performance stacks up against the competition. The observations are used as starting points for improving performance. (For greater precision, see the definition at

There are various ways to collect the data.

For instance, join industry organizations that gather input from all participants, sanitize it so you can’t associate numbers with their providing companies, and then return the compiled results to the member companies.

Or team up with a company in another industry with which yours does not compete. Say a company that produces only women’s hats exchanges its own performance data with a company that produces only women’s gloves.

Here’s what I’ve found in the way of benchmarking data through my online reading: not much.

It’s amazing how few hard numbers I see. And it’s amazing how many useless—but potentially envy producing—percentages I see.

Today, the secret to success is to measure change by percentage instead of by hard numbers.
Start with a low base number. If you sell one copy of the book you have published and then sell four more books, you have quadrupled your business! It’s up 400%!!!

But the boxes of books still fill your garage while your car is parked in the icy driveway.

So I keep reading voraciously on a quest for hard performance data. Ah, to dream the impossible dream.


4 responses to “Benchmarking: A totally professional excuse for reading so much email

  1. Great post. I read a lot to procrastinate, but this is the first thing I’ve read that’s called me on it!

    I’m new to this idea of benchmarking, but are you sure that it is worth all this effort? It seems as though it would be more useful to a large company, which might not always know what’s going on with their employees but needs a way to measure their effort.

  2. Therese,

    Thank you so much for your comment.

    I believe no one needs data more than those of us who are self employed. We may have no one to share actual figures with as we sit in our home offices and read the alleged accomplishments of our peers.

    While benchmarking can be used to assess individual employees, I see it more in terms of understanding the marketplace. There is little hard data out there for our use.

    What I am seeing is primarily marketing copy, written to inspire the readers’ dreams (and purchases). If we are to see the world as marketers see it, we mayl believe that “6 figures” is merely a respectable income floor and the very next income objective is “7 figures.”

    I believe this is a distortion of reality and hinders the self-employed in assessing where we are at and what is working for us.


  3. I love the idea of comparing % – It reminds me a little of the new glasses I got – the lenses were 50% off – but 50% off what? they were still over $400. It just shows again, we can pretty much play with the numbers until we get something that makes us feel good.

    As an accountant – listening to marketers – coaches talking about 6 figures and 7 figures drives me nuts. There’s a HUGE amount of variation in those figures. Seriously are we talking 6 figures as 100,000 or as 999,999?? That just is meaningless to me. Actually I hear it, my brain tries to see what it looks like, and goes into Tilt mode.

    The other thought that came up was the idea of Benchmarking based on what other people are doing. I think the best competition is with ourselves. If we can increase our best and continue to grow and thrive then we’re successful. Does it really matter what the other guy is doing?

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should ignore the rest of the world, but think we shouldn’t use them to measure ourselves.

    I’m all for setting my intent and goals and then being thrilled when I exceed them time after time.

  4. Chuckle, chuckle. 🙂

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