Three years ago, I stopped making — and breaking — New Year’s resolutions and started focusing on habits. Why? Forecasting an outcome doesn’t create the conditions to achieve it. You can practice habits. String together enough good habits, and you’ll produce the conditions that lead to good outcomes.
For me, when it comes to measuring goal progress, I don’t focus on outcomes. I focus on processes, and I’m not the only one. Freelancer Leo Babauta, creator of the popular website Zen Habits, quit smoking, lost weight and wrote a best-selling book by learning how to replace bad habits with good alternatives. I’ve adopted a similar mindset, which is why I focus on habits when measuring goal progress.
So, how am I doing? Here’s a closer look at the freelance processes I put in place entering 2017:
Develop a Consistent Morning Routine
You’d think after 14 years of freelancing, I’d have a morning routine. Nope. I needed to invent one to shut out distractions and get my mind and body ready for work.
Prognosis: Still working on it, though I have visible reminders all around me, telling me what I want my morning routine to look like when I’m at my best. This allows me to tick off more items on my to-do list in one day than in the past.
Commit to One Platform for Organizing Work
Productivity systems are a historical weakness of mine. I’d try anything that promised to get me more organized and living a less stressful life, as if a system could magically transform me. Complete nonsense. Heading into 2017, I picked WorkFlowy — a wonderfully flexible outlining tool — as my go-to for tracking work in progress.
Prognosis: While I still rely on my spreadsheet to track and forecast financials, I’ve found it energizing to start my day checking the “@Today” list I’ve set up in WorkFlowy. I also use it to write and capture notes, track long-term goals and more. Frank Degenaar’s book, Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy, is chock-full of ideas for making the most of the tool.
Say No to Lower-Paying Jobs
I’m frequently offered a lot of work that pays little. Turning it down is hard, but with a limited number of hours in the day, it’s crucial I maximize time spent on the computer performing work that offers a comfortable margin.
Prognosis: I’ve already turned down two projects that weren’t a fit for me financially. I spend the extra time on existing clients who pay better and more consistently.
Practice the Ivy Lee Method
Some call it a to-do list hack, but I call the Ivy Lee Method a good way to get more done when you have too much to do. Basically, the Ivy Lee Method is working on one task at a time until the work is complete. Don’t multitask. Don’t revisit a work in progress at a later time. Just finish it.
Prognosis: I’m better at staying on task and doing more for my many clients, but at a cost: January revenue was down 16.6 percent over last year. I need to get faster.
Measuring Goal Progress — One Thing You Can Do Right Now
From GTD to Kanban to Don’t Break the Chain and more, there are so many productivity and goal-setting systems out there. Author Chris Bailey decided to try them all and then wrote a book about his experience.
Read his experiments, if you’re really curious, but don’t go crazy trying everything. Instead, take 15 minutes to write down what your typical day looks like. See if you can identify the habits blocking you and think of a few alternatives you can put in their place. Finally, track your days using a tool, like WorkFlowy, or a standard piece of paper.
Change will come incrementally at first, but it will come. You’ll see it, because you’ll be measuring goal progress daily. You might even get addicted to seeing your gains, which in turn, can make you interested in making more changes. Either way, no one can stop you from making progress if you’re willing to put in the work and start. Are you?