goal tracking (1 of 2)

I've often benefited from using various tracking systems when I'm trying to improve a behavior. As most people who've ever tried to keep a food journal realize, just the act of writing down everything you eat tends not only to make you more aware of what/when/why you eat, but also improves what you choose since you don't want to have to write down the bad stuff. Writing down exactly how you spend your time for the entire day can have a similar effect. Logging your activities makes you aware of how you're spending your time.

There are different methods for time and goal tracking, some at the planning end (How do you plan to spend your time?) and others at the capture/recording end (How did you actually spend your time?). Different organizational gurus have built entire systems around one set of concerns or the other. I've benefited from both the top down and bottom up approaches, and lately I've been using two different tools that let me do a little of each. (Second post coming up in a day or two.)

One is a handy web application called Joe's Goals. It offers a goal tracking chart somewhat similar to Benjamin Franklin's chart of behavioral guidelines, which let him track his progress throughout his life (although old Ben marked the boxes of the virtues he didn't achieve during the day, kind of a negative approach that most productivity folks wouldn't recommend today -- but over time he eventually saw the marks diminishing on the pages of his chart). Despite the name, I see this tool as an action tracker, not a goal tracker per se -- if you spend some time reflecting on your larger goals (be a productive researcher; improve physical health; etc) and then choose a small number of defined, repeated behaviors that would help you achieve those goals, then you can use this tool to help you chart your progress. (On setting priorities, goals, and actions, I'd recommend Cheryl Richardson, Take Time for Your Life, Jack Canfield & Mark Hanson, The Power of Focus, or Vince Panella, The 26-Hour Day.) The key is figuring out specific actions you want to track (and to know why you are doing this).

You can name both positive or negative behaviors, and mark them off daily as you do them, and the tool tallys up your score for the day. You can now also assign different point values to your goals. On my chart, for instance, I have things like "floss teeth" which is a behavior I'm striving to do every day. But it's only 1 point, whereas "write for 30 minutes" is worth 3, because it's both more important and more difficult. I don't have any negative behaviors (whose points are assigned negative values) on my chart, because I'm all about striving to improve, rather than criticising myself. So, let's say I've been having a not very productive work day. At the very least I can check off yoga, flossing, and taking vitamins, and I know I've made some progress towards my larger goal of improved health.

One of the reasons I've been trying out this tool is that when I completed the Bikram Challenge this spring, my studio had a chart on the wall for each of the participants to mark off as we completed each of the 60 consecutive classes. It sounds silly, but it was very satisfying to see your progress accumulate. Plus, of course, others in the studio were supporting us as they looked at the chart too. The Joe's Goals tool has a feature I haven't tried, which allows you to share your progress on certain goals with others-- this might be useful for a writing group or knitting group etc.

As I've been using the tool, I have definitely found it to have its own motivational pull -- I'll think about doing certain things so that I can have the satisfaction of checking them off. I intentionally listed both personal actions and work-related actions, since all of these behaviors are things I want to encourage in my life. Looking over a week's worth or month's worth of check marks helps me see the larger picture of how I spend my time, and how that relates to who I want to become.