📖 Book Chapter - Tracking Your Progress (Issue #41)
Measure for accountability and motivation
This is a draft of Chapter 22 of the book I’m writing, Building the Invincible You. In it, I share a framework and strategies for:
Amplifying your power in your work and life.
Regaining your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could.
Building the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
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“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
— Robert Burns (adapted from a poem)
All too often, we set goals and do what we can to work towards them. But we’re not entirely certain how well we’re performing against those goals—unless they’re highly salient (e.g., landing a promotion, getting a new job, moving to a new city, getting married, publishing a book).
Tracking and assessing your progress gives you a clear picture of how far you’ve come and how far you still have to go. In chapters 7 and 9, I talked about identifying goals and making plans. But, I think we all know there's a big difference between making a plan and executing that plan. It's only after you start doing the work and making progress that you see the truth.
You may start having mixed feelings about the goal you selected.
You might discover that your plan isn't working as well as you had hoped.
Your plan may be fine, but it's yielding unanticipated results and side effects.
Perhaps your plan is feasible, but it's taking longer than you anticipated.
You may need to make some changes to your daily, weekly, and monthly habits to speed things up.
Or, you may discover—as many do—that working through your plan has revealed something different and better, which you'd like to pursue instead.
Life is unpredictable. We don't know what we don't know. Blindly continuing down a path without checking in to see if it’s still the right path isn’t a great idea. It’s good to be committed and determined, but you want to ensure you’re still committed to a goal that you really want to reach.
For example, in my pursuit of higher executive levels in my tech career, I made some surprising personal discoveries. The plan was working, I guess. I did get promoted to Vice President at one of the largest internet companies in the world. I was making pretty good money. I even became the CEO of a tech startup and built my own team.
So, if I was achieving everything I wanted in my professional life, why wasn't I happy?
Well, there were some side effects of pursuing that path. I was becoming someone I didn't want to be. Harder, colder, more ruthless, and more political. My physical and emotional health were suffering. My relationships with my family were on the back burner. I wasn’t living life. I was just working, working, working.
One day, I took a step back to review my progress and think about my career ambitions. I looked up the ladder to see what the lives were like for those at the top. Did I still want to become a C-level executive at a public company? I asked the following questions and paid close attention to the answers.
How did they spend their days?
What kind of people were they?
How did they behave?
How did they treat others?
What were their personal lives likes (as far as I could tell)?
I didn't like what I saw.
I'm glad I took a breather to assess my progress on the journey to claim the goal I thought I had wanted. I'm glad I didn't keep mindlessly pursuing that path, trying to accumulate more power, wealth, and material possessions.
If I had, I would have wasted even more years of my life chasing something that left me feeling increasingly hollow. I would have let my personal relationships continue to suffer and weaken as I focused only on my job and career. I would have let my health continue to suffer, until something went very, very wrong with it.
Yes, I know that sounds funny coming from a career coach. But, as my clients will tell you, I believe in designing the life you want first, and then building a career to support that kind of life. I'm not talking about making tons of money and designing a "lifestyle of the rich and shameless."
I'm talking about building an:
Invincible Career where you are in power, have unlimited opportunities, and are in control of your future.
Invincible Life where you are happy, healthy, and spending more time with the people you love (and less time doing things you hate).
Sometimes, you’re able to find a career and job that will enable all of that. Many times, you are not. That's one reason I often recommend the ultimate path of solopreneurship, which puts you in the driver's seat.
However, you'll never know if you're on the right track or not, unless you take the time to monitor and record your progress, how you are feeling, how you are experiencing the journey, and how you feel about the goals you are pursuing.
Track your progress
In chapter 4, I talked about creating your vision, mission, and purpose. Then, you identified your most audacious goals related to that in chapter 7, and made your plans to achieve those goals in chapter 9.
It’s essential to track your progress to achieving your goals. Otherwise, how do you know if your strategies and plans are working well or not?
Tracking progress also helps with accountability and motivation. So, record this information every day and week, not just the end of the year. You’ll want to look at the overall trend, not just daily fluctuations.
We like to think that progress is linear. If a plan is working, we expect every day to be another win.
However, reality paints a very different picture of progress and success. It’s messy, and you’ll have periods of time when you feel like you’re stuck and can’t break free of a plateau. You will have setbacks and feel like you’re losing progress and failing. That’s why you need to step back and look at your data over a longer period of time.
Look back to see how far you've come. It's easy to feel disappointed with what you perceive as slow or stalled progress. It’s also easy to make the mistake of comparing yourself to others. Don’t do that!
Only compare current you to past you. I still have to remind myself to do that. And I have to remind myself to look back over the years, not days or even weeks or months. When you do that, you'll be surprised by how far your life has come. You’ll notice that you’re steadily getting closer to your goals.
Whenever I’m feeling down or frustrated with how slowly things seem to be improving, I look back at my young self and where I was in my 20s.
I had lost my way, lost my scholarship, and dropped out of college.
I was working minimum wage jobs.
I felt like I had no future.
My life is so much more amazing now than I ever would have predicted. Looking back at the progress I’ve made helps me feel grateful. It’s also a reminder that I am still working towards my new goals, even when it sometimes feels slower than I would hope.
So, there are many ways to track your progress. Use what works for you and choose something you can do consistently and easily every day. Here are some examples.
Create a simple spreadsheet to track your progress, note your milestones and checkpoints, and use the dates of your plan to help you focus (refer to chapter 9).
Journal in a paper notebook every morning and make notes about your planned and achieved progress every day.
I also use a simple 5-point visual rating system in my journal (e.g., 5 small circles that I can fill in) to note how I am feeling each day (e.g., 5 is great, 4 is good, 3 is ok, 2 is not good, 1 is terrible). I can flip through the pages and look at trends in that little graphic.
You can do some open-ended journaling to simply capture your thoughts, feelings, and ideas every day. How are you feeling about your goals, the work you’re doing to achieve them, and the progress you’re making?
Finally, I find it useful to write one key takeaway for the day. What's the insight? What was your "aha moment" that day? What did you learn that can make tomorrow better?
This is your personal time machine. It's a chance for past you to talk to future you. What message do you want to send to the future? What can educate and inspire you on days when you're feeling empty and down?
Assess your progress
Periodically, assess the progress of your plan to create your invincible life and build the invincible you. How often you perform this assessment (e.g., weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) depends on you, what you are trying to accomplish, and the timeline you have established.
It’s a deeper dive to look back and think about things vs. just simply tracking progress for the day. You’ll want to set aside some time to really do this well (e.g., an hour or two).
You are really just trying to answer this basic question:
Are you on track to achieve your goals?
Review what you committed to accomplish and take a moment to score your progress:
Did you achieve your smaller goals over the past few months?
What is the progress on your larger goals?
Are you on track for what you want to achieve this year?
Big picture, what is it you want the most, and is that goal still valid? For example:
Writing a book
Buying a home
Starting a podcast
Finding your life partner
Starting your new business
Adding some side hustle income
Write some notes that capture the work you’ve been doing to invest in yourself and your goals. For example:
What worked well?
What did not work so well?
What strategies failed?
Why did things not go as planned?
What habits didn’t stick?
What got in the way of your success?
Then, write down any adjustments you need to make to your strategies and plans. For example:
What changes do you want to make going forward?
What do you want to test?
What habits are you going to drop?
What habits do you want to add?
What activities do you want to add to your calendar?
How do your priorities need to change to make success possible?
Who is supporting you, and who might be holding you back?
Do you need an accountability partner or community?
There’s nothing wrong with admitting that a plan didn’t entirely work out and you need to make some changes. I worked in the tech industry for over 20 years. Even multibillion-dollar companies have plans that fail. Teams are constantly adjusting plans, changing strategies, and course-correcting to get back on track.
One thing I’ve learned in life is that you must be flexible. Life changes, goals change, and your plans will change. What you once thought you wanted the most in life may no longer appeal to you. Or, the path you’ve been taking to reach a goal may take you through unpleasant territory, so now you need to make a new plan to find a new path to get there.
Even if you’re still happy with the goal you’ve chosen, it’s easy to drift off course while you’re making progress. This is especially true for a long-term goal that may take years to achieve.
This tracking and assessment exercise helps you get back on track with the goals that matter the most to you. Without assessing your progress, you can’t know if you’re doing the right things to succeed.
There is a saying, “That which is measured, improves.” But, the complete quote that seems to be the basis for that saying is:
"I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind."
— Lord Kelvin
Assessment and measurement add precision to your process. Rather than having a fuzzy feeling that things are going well or not going so well, you’ll know exactly what your progress is and can plan what you want to do about it.
For example, someone might have a goal to write a book by the end of the year. So, they add a daily habit to their schedule. They sit down and write for one hour every morning.
They know that they’ve stuck to their schedule for the past six months, and they feel good about that. No matter what, they wrote for an hour every day.
However, when they take this time to assess their progress against the plan, they can tell that there is no way they will meet their goal of completing the book this year. They discover that they have only finished about 50% of the chapters they outlined. That may seem ok, but it doesn’t leave any time for review, editing, and revisions before the year is over.
So, now would be the time to update the plan and make changes to their habits and schedule. They decide to add two more hours of writing every weekend. It seems like the only way they will have a chance of finishing the book on time.
It’s better to periodically assess your progress and discover you need to make some changes to get back on track than to wait until you fail. If you’re struggling to make the progress you expected and achieve milestones on time, take a moment to figure out why:
Is the goal still valid? Sometimes progress stalls when you’re no longer excited about what you want to achieve. You may need to revisit chapter 7.
Is the timeline unrealistic? Sometimes we don’t really know how long something will take until we’re in the middle of working on it.
Is the plan not working? Plans are rarely flawless the first time. Don’t be surprised if you need to make adjustments and tweak things.
Have you made the necessary work a daily or weekly habit? All too often, work and life will interrupt the pursuit of our personal goals, unless we bake it into our daily lives.
Are you scheduling time to work on your plan? Use your calendar to fiercely protect the time required to invest in yourself and your dreams. What gets scheduled gets done.
Do you have an accountability partner or community? They can help motivate you and keep you honest about your progress with regular check ins.
Once you’ve identified why you may have drifted off course, address those issues and get back on track.
In chapter 6, I talked about writing the “Story of You,” which included documenting your life accomplishments to date. As you continue your journey now, you will be accomplishing more amazing things on the path to building the life you want.
Don’t just let those moments slip by unnoticed. Capture them in a living document or even a paper notebook, so you can recall these notable milestones later. They will motivate and inspire you. They’ll remind you of how far you’ve come.
Regardless of how much progress you’ve made so far, it’s a valuable exercise to capture everything you actually did accomplish. You might be surprised by how much you did get done.
Don’t bother editing as you go or questioning anything. Let the list flow from your mind to your fingertips!
It helps to review your calendar. For example, when I sit down to remember what I have achieved at the end of each year, my mind sometimes goes blank. What in the heck had I been doing all year? Putting my calendar app into a Week view gives me enough of an overview to scroll through it all and see what kept me busy. For example:
Writing draft book chapters
Marketing my businesses
Working on courses
Creating and updating websites
Meeting with clients
I also flip through the pages of my morning journal. This is one reason I recommend it. The little book helps refresh my memory and reminds me of a few things I’ve worked on that weren’t captured in my calendar.
You can also quickly scan your email inbox or other message threads. If you’re like me, you haven’t deleted all of your messages. Reviewing the subject lines and senders will trigger your memory of past projects, meetings, and other things you did.
Your achievements can be both professional (e.g., launching a project that takes you one step closer to your big goal) and personal (e.g., you took yoga classes to improve your fitness). All of your accomplishments matter and count toward your progress!
Celebrate your small wins
I don’t know about you, but I benefit from celebrating my small wins on the road to the major goal I’m trying to reach. For example, as I have been writing this book, I celebrate—in a small way— every time I complete a chapter. It’s a way to reward myself for my hard work and encourages me to continue working on the book.
If I waited until the very end of the journey when I publish the book, it would be over two years of waiting for a large celebration. Now, I have no problem with delayed gratification, but that’s pretty extreme. Instead, I like to celebrate my small wins along the way.
I encourage you to do the same. As you make progress and reach a milestone, take a moment to celebrate the win. Do something you enjoy.
Take a break and go for a walk.
Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae.
Go see a movie.
Relax in the sun with a nice beverage for an hour or two (one of my favorites).
Have lunch with a friend.
About 20 years ago, I decided to start celebrating my wins. All of my wins, not just the big ones.
It’s easy to get into the habit of only celebrating large and apparent wins:
Landing a new job.
Getting a raise or promotion.
Buying a new house.
Getting your book published.
Of course, you are going to celebrate big wins. However, for most of us, those significant wins are few and far between. In the meantime, you will experience hard times and losses. That’s normal. That’s life!
If you don’t celebrate the small wins and regularly express gratitude for the good things in your life, you start to overemphasize the negative stuff. The balance feels out of whack. You begin to feel like you aren’t very successful or happy.
Social media only exacerbates this. People share the highlight reel of their lives. So, you slip into thinking everyone else is successful, wealthy, and outrageously happy.
It isn’t true, of course. But, that little voice inside your head keeps whispering that you’re not doing as well as they are.
Combat this darkness with an active effort to celebrate the happy moments in your life, no matter how small. The celebration can be tiny as well, but it should be a conscious choice to commemorate the moment.
Heck, I’ve had micro-celebrations when I finish an article that consisted of going out to get a cup of coffee. Wild, I know. But, it is intentional and meaningful for me.
Make it a consistent habit. You may not feel like celebrating a win every day, but you should be celebrating something, in some form, every week or month as you make progress on your plan.
Tracking and assessing your progress gives you a clear picture of how far you’ve come and how far you still have to go to achieve your most important goals.
Taking a step back to evaluate your progress also helps you make sure the goals you’ve selected are still the ones you really want to accomplish.
Track your progress consistently—usually daily—using simple tools like a basic spreadsheet, a living document, or a paper notebook.
Periodically, take a deeper dive for an hour or two to assess your progress and see if you are still on track.
You may discover that you need to make a course correction if you’re falling behind, experiencing unpleasant “side effects” from your plan, or noticing that you’re having mixed feelings about the goal you selected.
It’s easy to feel discouraged by seemingly slow progress, so be sure to capture all your accomplishments during this journey. You’ll be surprised by how far you’ve come.
Celebrate the small wins along the way! Life is hard enough, so treat yourself well and enjoy the tiny victories as you keep reaching for your goals.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Hi, I’m Larry Cornett, a Personal Coach who can work with you to optimize your career, life, or business. My mission is to help you take complete control of your life so you can become a more “Invincible You.” I currently live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and our Great Dane.