You Can’t Just Measure When Things Are Going Wrong3 min read

We had a geiger counter running continuously where we prepared the radioactive drugs. It sat up in a corner, quietly making a little cricket-like chirp every second or so.

This wasn’t an unusual thing – I was working as a nuclear medicine technologist. You want to monitor for a possible radioactive spill; even a drop too small too see can be picked up by a geiger counter. They just detect the presence of radiation, so the little chirps every so often were just background radiation from cosmic rays and things like that.

Until one day it dawned on me that something was off.

It took a few minutes, but I realized that the geiger counter was making it’s chirp about every half second. It wasn’t the full-on chatter that happens when you’re surveying a spill, but it had sped up just enough that it felt… wrong. Like hearing your favorite song sped up just a little bit.

It wasn’t fast enough to be consciously noticeable – and if it hadn’t been part of my background noise for a month or three, I probably wouldn’t have noticed either. But it was, so I took the counter down and found the tiny drop of radioactivity that had spilled during that morning’s preparation of our drugs, and cleaned it up.

I wouldn’t have noticed the spill otherwise until we did our end-of-day checks. It was such a small drop that it hadn’t even changed the appearance of the protective absorbent paper it had landed on. We wouldn’t have known it was there, and discovering it hours later wouldn’t have let us know when the spill had occurred and what we could do differently in future to prevent it.

This is why continuous monitoring is important.

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I’ve had the "load" from my barometric pressure monitor running in the background with a little display at the top of my computer screen. I don’t stare at it, but it’s there. I can glance up and see what the pressure is doing automatically, like the "chirp" of that geiger counter.

It’s important to note that I do not have to actively do anything for these measurements to occur. I don’t have to remember to push a button, or look at something. They’re just there in the background, always available.

Then, when things look strange, or I’m noticing a change in my mood (or pain levels), I check more in depth and look at the other graphs.

I’ve been able to notice the correlation between the barometric pressure changes and my pain level a lot more accurately (it seems to be rate of change, as well as sudden changes in direction) and additionally notice the ways that changing barometric pressure affects my mood and my productivity for different kinds of work.

The same goes for my continuous glucose monitor (itself the subject of another day’s post). Having real-time feedback on what my blood sugar is doing both lets me recognize the effect of blood sugar on how I’m feeling and has a direct effect on how and what I eat.

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Realizing that connection is why I am writing this now. I noticed that I was having difficulty concentrating on studying, and then noticed the barometric pressure was rising rapidly. I don’t know why that connection exists yet – I may never know – but I’ve learned to recognize that a sudden rise in barometric pressure tends to go along having a hard time focusing on reading non-fiction. So rather than beat myself up over it, I changed activities and started writing – which does not seem to have the same problem.

This principle applies regardless of whether you’re talking about barometric pressure, full moons (although that’s not a thing), time of day, day of week… you get the idea.

Whether you’re managing your self or a team, having these kinds of objective, background measurements can point the way toward improving both your productivity and quality of life by working with your environment instead of against it.

Featured Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

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