One habit that I’ve picked up recently and have really enjoyed doing is something I’m calling daily success factors. I’ve been researching a lot lately on what it means to be productive in a meaningful way — in other words, making progress that actually counts towards an important goal, as opposed to something that might not really matter all that much right now.
For example, I have lots of side projects that I could actually get a lot of work done on— making me productive in that context— but in the larger picture it’s not all that productive for me to spend time on them right now. I need to be focused on a few key projects that are going to give me the foundation to then go on and work on other fun things.
In an effort to be better about this, and be more disciplined about making meaningful progress every day, I’ve started using these daily success factors. What they do is basically help me define success every day, rather than having success be this single even that happens after days/weeks/months of work.
The benefits of this are huge: It gives me a win every single day when I complete the tasks I laid out for myself, and it’s also not so overwhelming that I need to complete 500 things in order to feel success. Eventually I might end up doing 500 things, but by celebrating progress every single day, it makes it all that much more possible that I reach that mark.
It’s sort of like a joke I make when training for /running a marathon. I know I can run 1 mile— so the rest is simple right? I just need to do that 25 more times! Of course running 25 more miles takes a ton of time and effort, so every training program makes you work up to that. As you work your way through the program, you celebrate every time you run a little bit further, or run faster, etc.
Most work projects are like training for marathons. There’s a ton of work to do and without breaking it apart it’s unlikely that you’ll ever hit your goal. If you do, you might have burned yourself out because you paced it all wrong or pushed yourself far too much.
Ok, so enough theory. Here’s the actual practice:
Every night before I sleep, I write down 3 things that I want to complete tomorrow that I consider are meaningful. I call these my success factors. I write them down because lots of research shows that writing out a goal makes you that much more likely to follow through. I do this the night before because my mind is much clearer about what I need to do— it’s not in that morning rush of feeling: I need to get everything done right now!
I also add in 2 ‘bonus’ items— things that would be great to get done, but honestly aren’t super important if they get skipped. This is nice to give yourself an extra win every day but not to punish yourself if your 3 things you get done took longer than expected.
It’s also important to not write down 3 *huge* tasks. You wouldn’t say that you want to go from running 1 mile to 15 in just 1 day, so pace yourself realistically and be honest with what you can get done. As you do this exercise more, you get much better at it and can figure out exactly what your limit is / and even push yourself a little bit more if you want.
The beauty of this habit is that as you do it, you realize that you’re making progress every single day towards some big goal. You can look back at your journal and see everything you’ve done— and celebrate an even bigger success. You’ll see all the mini steps you’ve been taking that have added up to a lot of progress. It’s a great feeling (and yet another reason to write this stuff down rather than keeping it in your mind).
So that’s it! In short, create a list of 3 items every night that you plan to finish tomorrow. You can add up to 2 bonus items to complete, but those aren’t as necessary to do. Just keep doing this until you hit a groove, and treat it as a success every day when you finish all 3 (or 5!) tasks!