Text message received from friend last month: “Wahoo! Congrats, girlfriend. So very delighted for you!” This was in response to my text saying I’d had a client book a really great piece of work with me that I was really excited about. And what a buzz to share it – and with someone who knew what it meant to me and what it had taken to achieve. Celebrating progress feels good.
A few years ago that same friend and I had dinner together to celebrate a small financial milestone I’d achieved, having paid off a business loan. It was just one financial step (not in the millionaires club yet!) but it was progress. And it also wasn’t about a flashy dinner, it was about marking the occasion with a good friend and honouring the progress I’d made.
It feels so good to stop and celebrate for a moment. It allows us to more fully reap the rewards of our efforts.
It helps us stay connected to our sense of worth and capability.
It fills up our tank, so when the going gets tough at any time, we have some reserves.
It increases our satisfaction in life.
It teaches us to celebrate progress, not perfection.
And celebrating progress and tracking what we’re achieving is just as relevant to our smaller day to day to-do lists, as it is to our bigger goals.
Experience more completion day to day
I talk to so many people who find it hard to switch off from work and/or feel overwhelmed at the end of their work day by everything they have yet to do – even though they’ve been working their butt off all day and getting loads done.
Because of the pace and complexity of life these days, it’s so easy to get to the end of the day more aware of all the things that still need to be done, than of those you’ve achieved – and even more so when you’re interrupted and need to deal with unexpected items that aren’t on your original to-do list for the day. It’s hard to go home feeling chuffed with your day and enjoy putting your feet up when that’s going on.
And here’s another thing: so many of us work in a virtual world of electronic communication that means we’re often not even touching the work we’re doing each day and that really dilutes our sense of achievement. Here’s what I mean …
Take yourself back 150 years and imagine you’ve recently settled in your home country. You’re a pioneer and a day’s work for you at the moment is ploughing land, planting and harvesting. Today it’s been potato harvesting and you’ve been working the spuds out of the ground, helping bag them into sacks, load them onto the wagon and lead the mule over to the barn.
What do you have to show for it? Aching muscles in your arms and back. You can see the dirt under your fingernails and can probably still smell the earth. You can see the turned field. You can see the pile of potato sacks. You’ve had boiled spuds with butter for dinner.
You’re having a full sensory experience of the work you’ve done today. You can feel it.
Contrast that with preparing a document at work – perhaps a report, proposal or letter. It might be brief or it might be 30 pages long. Let’s say you’ve completed it, saved it in PDF format, attached it to an email and sent it off.
It’s done and gone.
You may not have even printed it, held it and stapled or bound it. With one click of your mouse it is gone and you’re on to the next thing.
Where is the moment you get to look at it, hold it, even smell the printed paper and feel the completion?
When completing something is so fleeting and intangible, is it any wonder we don’t have a great sense of completion these days?
Stop. Take stock. Notice all the good stuff you’ve achieved (even if it wasn’t on your original to-do list for the day). Take a few minutes at the end of your work day to write down what you’ve achieved that day – this turns it into a more full and felt experience as you physically write it down, see it, reflect on it and feel good. Capture – What did you get done? What are you particularly pleased to have achieved?
Plus, notice when you hang up from a customer having solved their problem; feel the satisfaction of that. Pause to enjoy the feeling of handing over a parcel or document to someone; feel the completion.
Track activity and results
Just before I turned twenty I had been working with a personal trainer at the gym to help me strengthen my back and get a bit leaner. I moved towns that summer and left that gym and eventually got out of my routine. Several years later I looked back at photographs of my 20th birthday party (80’s disco theme, no less) and realised I pretty much had a washboard stomach – for the first and last time! I hadn’t been keeping track of what I’d achieved or how my body had changed, and didn’t realise how far I’d come. I kicked myself for not being more aware – and maintaining what I’d achieved. I’d kept up my activity but not tracked my results.
It goes the other way too – focusing only on results is not ideal either. When I’m working with sales people around tracking progress, they often say how disheartening it is when there are a lot of irons in the fire, but nothing over the line yet – particularly when the only hard measure of progress by the company is actual sales. I recommend they focus on the actions they’re taking as much as the sales they’re making. Noticing what they’ve put in place helps them see the progress and to feel better. Why does that matter? Because when we don’t feel good, we don’t do well. It’s rather chicken and egg, but I have experienced it time and time again. When I feel good and acknowledge what’s working, more of the good stuff comes. I’m sure you’ve noticed that too.
So, as well as tracking sales, track how many calls you’ve made and what other actions you’ve taken. These are the things you can control. Obviously if you’re making plenty of calls and still not getting enough sales, the question becomes ‘how am I making those calls?’ so you can tweak and fine tune your approach.
It’s not about perfection
If you have A-type personality tendencies and constantly strive to be the best, you may be tempted to chase perfection. I know this. I am a recovering perfectionist. The trouble with perfection is that it’s so unreal. It’s your mind’s concept of what attaining some kind of ultimately acceptable standard is. It’s a game the ego plays to make us feel good enough.
I recall from years ago an old university friend of mine, Ana, standing in her flat and showing me her ‘perfect’ (her word) shelf arrangements that she’d spent the weekend working on – an array of ornaments, house plants etc. I stood there momentarily blank faced and inwardly stunned as I saw the perfectionist dynamic at play – and what an illusion it was. I’d visited another friend earlier that week who had a beautiful inner city apartment with floor to ceiling shelving across one wall. I had a moment of insight where I could see what she would see if she was looking at Ana’s quirky shelves – and I don’t think it was perfection!
They had different tastes of course, and yet they both liked creating a nice home space which is great. As long as we keep it in perspective. And as long as we don’t keep chasing ‘perfect’ long after we’ve created something good for ourselves or it will be a case of ‘how long is a piece of string?’
We all have our own very particular idea of what ‘perfect’ is. So, how do you know it’s perfect? You don’t. Your mind will tell you it is, or it will tell you it isn’t. If we only strive for perfection we will live empty lives because we are chasing a ghost.
On the other hand, when we track progress and the signs of change, we are tracking our journey and growth, and seeing our efforts coming to fruition.
We get to enjoy each step we take and each milestone we make.
If you are currently working with a coach, or working to changing a habit, actively improving an area of your life or learning a new skill, be sure to track your progress every few days. I do this at night when I get into bed, with a notebook and pen handy to make it easy. Ask yourself – What has been working well today? What signs of progress have I seen or felt? What am I pleased with?
Plus, take time to celebrate wins with your team. It’s easy to gloss over the good stuff and dive into the next challenge on the list before you’ve taken a breath. Half the reason this happens is because we forget what we’re doing it all for – and some of that is the reward and satisfaction of achieving the goal or helping a customer; essentially making a difference in some way. I can’t tell you how often I hear staff say that they’ve barely finished one project and it’s on to the next, and no one seems to give a brass razoo for the effort they’ve gone to. Did anyone notice what I did this month?! Don’t be one of those managers!
Stop. Smell the roses. Celebrate your wins and your on-the-way-to-a-win’s. And help those around you do so too.