Although some individuals recommend abandoning all objectives and focusing on systems rather than goals, I’ve never been able to completely abandon goal-setting.
In fact, I just finished my monthly review today, in which I evaluated how successfully I accomplished the goals I set for myself last month and established new ones for the coming month. As I was doing this, I began to wonder if assessing my progress on a monthly basis was beneficial to me.
I looked at the science of tracking your progress toward personal objectives and how it affects your well-being, as well as some examples of how to do it.
The science of measuring progress towards personal goals
To begin, I identified a handful of studies that showed that progress toward personal objectives can lead to increased well-being, satisfaction, and happiness.
The catch here is that your objectives must align with your inner desires and motivations. You won’t witness the same emotional changes if you’re committed to a goal for external reasons, such as satisfying your job or your parents.
Even if we don’t make objectives expressly to attain those emotional improvements, I believe we can use this as a general guideline when it comes to goal-setting: we can still strive to focus on the goals that we’re genuinely motivated to achieve rather than what we think others expect of us.
I also discovered evidence that when a goal is more autonomous — that is, when it is set for us by ourselves rather than someone else — we are more likely to attain it.
The distinction between growth goals (those that look ahead to achieve something) and avoidance goals (those that look back) was the last point in the research on personal goals that I found interesting (those that are based on maintaining a current state or avoiding a negative change).
Creating growth goals is more common in children and younger people, according to studies, and has a beneficial influence on well-being in these age groups, whereas setting avoidance objectives has been found to have a negative emotional impact in these age groups.
Older adults, on the other hand, are more likely to set maintenance and avoidance objectives, and they don’t seem to suffer emotionally as a result—these goals appear to be well adapted to the changes we go through as we age.
However, age isn’t the only influence. According to research on personal goals conducted in the United States, South Korea, and Russia, social variables can have a significant impact.
This study discovered that avoidance goals had detrimental consequences on well-being over time in the United States, which the researchers classified as an individualistic country, but not in South Korea or Russia, both of which were classified as collectivistic countries.
Of course, participants in each of these studies were asked to track and report their progress toward their objectives. If you want to achieve those favorable emotional consequences, you must track your progress.
Four ways to measure your own progress
You can set a variety of personal goals, and each kind will require different methods of measuring progress. I’ve focused on examples for tracking daily, weekly, and monthly progress, but of course you could zoom right out and do an annual review if you have more long-term goals to work towards.
1. Track daily goals with iDoneThis
A tool we use at Buffer to track our work goals is iDoneThis:
iDoneThis sends each of us an email at the end of our workday, and a quick reply lets us note down what we got done so we can share it with the team.
We’ve found this helps us to get an overview of our day personally, and see how productive we’ve been, as well as share with the team what our daily progress is on each of our tasks and work goals. Having our progress shared publicly helps to motivate us to get more done, as well.
2. Track daily goals with the Seinfeld method.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a method for maintaining a consistent pace of improvement that he shared with another young comedian once. The Internet found out, and it’s since been dubbed the “Seinfeld method” or “Seinfeld strategy.”
It’s one of my favorite methods of building up a daily habit or progress towards a larger goal. It works like this:
- Keep a calendar where you can check off each day that you complete your daily goal
- Keep doing this every day, and soon you’ll have a chain of days you’ve checked off
- Don’t break the chain
That’s it. It’s pretty simple, but eventually, you’ll find you’ll have hundreds of days chained together, and skipping one will be much harder since it’ll set you back to a chain of zero.
3. Track weekly progress with a show-and-tell.
I always use Y Combinator’s weekly dinners as a reference point for tracking weekly progress. The concept is that all of the entrepreneurs in the current batch of YC meet together once a week to hear from an expert and report their progress from the previous week.
The weekly dinners act as motivation for getting things done, as Jason Freedman noted in this blog article. Nobody wants to be the founder who turns up with nothing to show for himself, thus peer pressure encourages everyone to work more and be more productive.
Jason’s piece is about duplicating the YC experience without actually being a part of it. He and his team set up a similar setup, where they would show investors and other founders every week, keeping the pressure on to make progress.
This is something you can easily do with personal goals by setting up a roster of friends, colleagues, or family members to meet with weekly. Accountability can go a long way towards motivating you to keep going when your goals seem far away.
4. Complete a monthly personal review.
Something I picked up from Buster Benson’s example is the idea of running a monthly review of my personal goals and the progress I’ve made. Buster schedules his as a recurring meeting with himself:
Schedule a 30-minute meeting with yourself to occur in one month and to recur every month after that. Make the meeting non-negotiable, and if for some reason it has to be rescheduled, reschedule it but don’t cancel it.
Buster even lays out a process for you to follow while reviewing your monthly goals. Yours will most likely be determined by the goals you want to track.
For instance, Buster’s example covers keeping track of your current interests as well as the most essential people in your life.
I used to include a section in my review where I listed what I’d spent time or money on in the previous month, but I concluded it wasn’t helping me comprehend my progress, so I removed it.
Reviews are really personal, and they need time to evolve into something you find beneficial for helping you track your progress. Mine currently includes these sections:
- What I completed last month that I’m proud of
- A report on my progress on the one habit I focused on last month.
- Notes on any experiments I tried
- Goals for the next month, including one habit I want to focus on regularly
- Notes on long-term goals and personal changes I’m working towards
Here’s part of the one I just finished today:
It takes a bit of effort to complete this every month, and I admire Buster for keeping his a lot shorter. I’d suggest starting with a really short, simple review in a notebook or text file if you’re testing this method.
I’d love to know what works for you. How do you track your progress? What have you tried that didn’t work? Let us know in the comments.