To build productivity momentum, surround yourself with progress

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Humans are hardwired to want to reach the finish line.

We crave completion.

The good news is, your past accomplishments can help you achieve your next big goal. Progress is a great motivator. Nothing can motivate you more than the realization of how much progress you’ve made.

The more you feel a sense of progress, the more productive you are. And the more you see progress. And so on.

The inspiration to take action is can sometimes be elusive despite our good intentions, plans and ideas to get things done.

When you feel like progress is elusive, and you don’t feel like you are making progress on the things that matter to you, your past progress report can be the biggest push towards taking action.

In a study, Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile tracked emotions, motivations, and perceptions of 238 knowledge workers over the course of 4 months, ultimately collecting over 12,000 diary entries. The results were fascinating.

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress — even a small win — can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.

You can control the feeling discouragement by reminding yourself of times in the past when you were able to step up to a challenge and move forward.

It is emotionally refreshing to surround yourself with your past progress. In her book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Teresa Amabile writes:

This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress — setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life.

The progress principle works well for a lot of creatives, and project teams who have hundreds of action steps and milestones to complete the project. It’s the reason why some businesses have a “Done! Wall” to remind them that they have moved forward in their journey. It pays to decorate your workspace with completed action steps.

Why throw away the relics of your accomplishment when you can use them to inspire you to get stuff done.

“Sometimes, in our panic and despair, we forget how awesome and powerful we were in overcoming an earlier curveball, mess, or conundrum. When you realize you’ve done it before, it will help you to remind yourself that you can — and will — weather this one, too,” explains Jenny Foss of The Muse.

Memories of past successes -no matter how small, can be used as a mental pep talk to keep yourself focused on your long-term goal. “The good news is that even small wins can boost inner work life tremendously. Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward,” says Amabile.

Track progress and use it to your advantage

When you have a visual image of past and present, you can easily chart your progress. Start noting down where you began in your career and how far you’ve come. You can apply the same approach to your tasks, team projects and long-term goals.

Find a system for tracking your progress. “It’s hard to stay engaged if you don’t have a system in place to document your progress toward them. Big wins are few and far between on the long journey of realizing an incredible idea, which is exactly why tracking our “small wins” is so very important,” explains Jocelyn Glei.

“You need to be tracking your progress by writing things down. We need to see our progress, writ large in the physical world, to feel it,” Glei adds. When Jocelyn K. Glei was launching her first podcast, Hurry Slowly, she used the progress principle to track her progress towards the ultimate goal of launching her podcast.

“I bought a 4-foot-wide roll of kraft paper, and I created a roadmap of everything I have to do over the next two months to reach launch. And I built in ‘progress trackers’ for all the key pieces.”

You can review your progress once every month or quarter — evaluate all that you have noted down and see how much progress you’ve made.

You could even reward yourself for your timely achievements to motivate yourself even better. Research shows that rewards are responsible for three-quarters of why you do things.

In his book, The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People, David Niven explains, “Researchers find that perceived self-interest, the rewards one believes are at stake, is the most significant factor in predicting dedication and satisfaction toward work. It accounts for about 75 percent of personal motivation toward accomplishment. — Dickinson 1999

Motivation is an emotion that rises and falls — naturally. Make it work for you. Don’t take your wins, no matter how small, lightly. They are massive motivators. Achievement motivation is just a step away!

This article first appeared on Medium.