At the risk of sounding very geeky, I am going to tell you something I like to do when I am serious about starting a new habit (working towards a new goal). I like to track my progress. I am careful with this practice, because I don’t want to become so entrenched in record-keeping that the records become the focus rather than the new behavior (this used to be called “paper pushing,” but since the computer age, it is not so much a matter of pushing paper as it is geekness to the nth degree). For me, it works best to record in an Excel spreadsheet. Others might prefer to log their information in a notebook. But what to record?
Let me illustrate with an example other than the blogging goal that I am working on right now. When I first started running about three years ago, I simply had a recurring item on my to do list: “Exercise.” I checked that item off to get that nice endorphin rush, and for a time, that was sufficient. But as I began setting loftier goals for myself, the progress was so slow that I needed a visual (a chart) to confirm that I was, indeed, inching forward. I created a quick, simple spreadsheet in Excel that had columns for date, distance and pace. When I first started recording these details, it seemed rather trivial, but over time, it has actually become a valuable set of data for me.
I can now compare my pace and mileage this year to what I was doing last year. Am I getting better, staying the same, or am I going backwards? Quite honestly, this is highly motivational information for a “mid-lifer” such as myself. At my age, people have a tendency to start relaxing in many areas of life (maybe a pre-retirement mentality?), and the results of that are, among other things, weight gain, muscle loss, mental decline, etc. For me to be able to look at a spreadsheet or chart and see that I am actually faster this year than I was last year, well, let’s just say that it keeps me pressing on!
It’s easy to figure out what to record with a running goal (time, distance, pace, etc.), but what about other less-measurable activities? What could I record about writing, for instance—other than the fact that I wrote today (for that, a simple tool like “Don’t Break the Chain” is sufficient)? When I introduced my 30-Day Challenge, I gave a hint as to what needed to be recorded. I wrote, “I need to get faster, more efficient…” So, while posting daily to the blog is the simpler goal to measure, the REAL goal for me is to get to where I can write a post and get it online without it taking hours of time; thus, my real goal is speed. And you know what? I didn’t even realize that was what I was working on until I actually wrote it down on that first day (which is subject matter for another post about the powerful effect of journaling; but I digress).
You may have already guessed this, but I have created a spreadsheet with Date, Time, Word Count (because obviously “word count” will be a factor in considering the true expenditure of my time). Why would I do this if no one but me is going to see it? Won’t that just take up more precious time? Is it a practice in minutia? Is there any real value in knowing such details?
I’m glad you asked. First of all, the most time-consuming part of the task was in actually creating the spreadsheet—which took about 60 seconds. Recording my stats each time I write should take maybe 15 seconds. So I don’t think the “wasted time” argument has any substance. And as for the idea of minutia, the answer is a big, fat NO, this is not meaningless minutia—at least not to me. It will have the same effect as recording my distance had when I first started running. If I can “see” that I am making progress, I will stay engaged with the process and persevere. If I persevere, I will make even more progress and get faster and faster, and before you know it (maybe “before you know it” is a little on the optimistic side), I may be able to whip out 10 pages a day like novelist Stephen King does!
Right now, I cannot even imagine that. But then there was a time when I couldn’t imagine running half a mile. Since those humble beginnings of adding a few feet a week to my running distance, I have run two half-marathons (13.1 miles)—and this transformation from a few feet to a half-marathon took place over about a year’s time! If you don’t mind me saying so myself, that’s incredible!!! So you see, I am intimately acquainted with the powerful effect of baby steps plus consistency. But to stay consistent, I need to see the progress. Thus the purpose of my anal habit of creating spreadsheets.
And as to whether or not there is any real value to all this record-keeping, the answer is a big, fat YES. Let’s say I complete my 30-day challenge of posting once a day to this blog and I don’t shave any time off the process during that month. If that is the case, then I should probably reconsider whether or not blogging is for me. On the other hand, if, during this month, I am able to decrease the time it takes for me to write and post a 500-word article by, say 30 minutes or so (or even 15 minutes), then that is probably a good indication that continued posting will become even faster as I persist. That is information that I will not have if I don’t record it.
There is a place for simple tools like Don’t Break the Chain, but for those habits/goals that you hope or expect to become life-changers, recording the journey is a must.
How about you? Does this kind of record-keeping sound like too much to you? Or do you record your progress in another way? Please do tell. Click “Leave a Comment” below (you may have to confirm your email address, but don’t worry; it will not be visible to the public). Also, if you are joining the 30-day challenge but haven’t yet “checked in,” please tell about your personal challenge by clicking “Leave a Comment.” And if you have “checked in,” drop a comment now and then and share your victories (because I KNOW you’re victorious!).