So much is lost in the rush of daily life. At the end of a busy work day, I’ve often closed out my tabs feeling exhausted, but also somewhat confounded. What did I even do today? Am I actually becoming the writer I want to be? Lots of questions, zero answers. And as my questions piled up, so did the self-doubt and second-guessing.
So I decided to make a change. I started setting aside time every day to recognize what I’d done and thereby keep tabs on my progress toward short- and long-term goals.
I’ve always been a fan of working smarter and setting up systems that work with my natural tendencies rather than against them. I set goals for everything from my career and finances, to physical and mental health, to personal growth and relationships.
I’m also the type of person who believes that a solid spreadsheet or a well-crafted document can do way more than most people give them credit for. So when I moved into freelance writing almost a year ago, I created almost a dozen documents in an attempt to make sure I accomplished everything I wanted to do.
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work either. I’m the kind of person who needs a balance of structure and free-flowing creativity. But I didn’t know what that kind of work-style looked like on a daily basis. I’d never seen anything like it in all my time researching productivity hacks and expert advice from other freelance writers who had years of experience under their collective belts.
I grew tired of seeing weeks pass with seemingly little to show for it and feeling less-than-confident in my abilities. So I decided to make time every single day to force myself to recognize all the little things I’d accomplished that day. It’s a 10-minute daily exercise that forces me to focus on the reality of my progress. It’s just short enough that I can’t justify skipping it, but long enough that I can find some meaningful insight. It also lets me adjust my goals from lofty to realistic and attainable.
But I didn’t arrive at my system without a crucial piece of introspection and self-acceptance: I realized the fact that I am, much to my chagrin, a people pleaser. Don’t get me wrong – I love setting goals for myself, and I especially love filling out spreadsheets and worksheets and ticking off boxes on my to-do list. But I tend to do better when I have some sort of external source of motivation spurring me on.
That was always missing from my goal-setting exercises. I would write down all of these things I wanted to do — start running regularly, pitch one of my dream publications, have a super-productive morning routine — but they were all solely dependent on willpower.
I’ve always heard that willpower is like a muscle: It gets easier to use the more you exercise it. I don’t know if that’s true. If it is, getting over the initial difficulty of flexing that particular muscle is enough to make me want to give up before I’ve started. But, as I’ve come to realize, having someone to spot you along the way in no way diminishes your progress.
That’s why I set aside one of my daily review time slots to focus on my weekly progress by way of a check-in phone call or video chat with my best friend. We take 15 to 20 minutes to discuss our progress on everything from getting a difficult assignment done to finally scheduling that appointment that’s been put off for way too long. And since we live 3,000 miles away from each other, it helps keep us up-to-date on what’s going on in each other’s lives.
Even though I almost never accomplish all of my goals (a fact which the perfectionist in me still cringes at), I can see the progress I’m making with every little step forward. I never had that kind of validation before and it has, for the most part, kept me from sliding back into the self-defeating mindset that’s plagued me since college.
I’m able to recognize the fact that I have to give myself time to reach those ultimate goals I’ve set for myself. And, even more importantly, I now measure myself against the person I was yesterday, rather than the idealized version of myself I can never quite reach. That makes it easier to appreciate my hard work, instead of getting hung up on all the things I’m not doing “right.” And that’s had a huge impact on my self-confidence.