Why You Should Track Your Small Wins
Photo courtesy of Simon Carr.

Why You Should Track Your Small Wins

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

We’re so good at seeing all of the places we’ve fallen short, the work that didn’t get done and the things that went wrong in our day. We’re far less good at noticing what did work. We’re sometimes even downright afraid to take stock of our wins for fear that appreciating them might in itself make them vanish.

Science has shown that humans tend to notice the negative more than the positive. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, doesn’t it? If you’re constantly looking for potential problems then you might notice that lion lurking in the bushes or stock up on food before a storm hits.

However, much like the resistance monster, this evolution-mediated response is regularly misplaced in our modern world. The ability to focus on the negative is not much help when you are trying to dive into a new area of interest or get work done on a project. Negativity slows us down, makes us worry unnecessarily about what we didn’t get done today and makes us feel bad about our progress and ourselves. It also prevents us from appreciating and enjoying our work.

One of the most powerful tools I’ve used to combat this natural tendency toward negativity is tracking my small wins.

Tracking your small wins is especially important at the very beginning of a new project or when you start learning about a new area. This is when you’re dealing with the frustration of being a beginner, you might be feeling really incompetent or you might see all of the work ahead of you and wish you were further along. At this early stage, some small wins can really help keep your spirits up so that you can move forward.

Step 1: Get Yourself an Aesthetically Pleasing Tracking Tool

If you’re “analogically minded,” go out and buy yourself a beautiful notebook, something special that you will feel a sort of textile enjoyment from writing in. That might sound silly, but aesthetically pleasing work tools really make a difference. For instance, I used to hate keeping receipts from all of my business expenses until I bought this overpriced but gorgeous pencil case:

case

Now I feel good every time I slip my receipts into it, which in turn makes me save my receipts more often. Aesthetics isn’t superfluous, especially when it yields functional results. So buy yourself a notebook you love.

If you are not a “tactile person” and you get more jazzed about technological tools, then get yourself an awesome app that you really like using. Evernote is a popular option.

Step 2: Start Tracking Your Wins and Prioritize Actions over Results

Once you have your tracking tool of choice, start writing down your small wins at the end of every work session. Make sure to focus on actions that YOU take, not on responses or results you get. For instance, it’s better to write “submitted a guest post pitch,” than “got a guest post pitch accepted” because it gets you noticing your action and seeing that as the important factor. You can’t control other people’s reactions but you can control what you do, and if your action alone is a win, then you will take more action and hence get more results.

Of course, you can also track the wins that are a result of other people’s responses. It’s just that you shouldn’t wait for them before logging a win. So write “launched my first product!” first and then you can add “Made $1,000″ later.

No Win is Too Small

And on that note, this is called a Small Wins journal for a reason. No win is too small. If you feel like you didn’t accomplish anything that day, challenge yourself by saying the following sentence out loud:

“Okay, so I feel like I didn’t get anything done today… But if I HAD to come up with 3 small wins, what would they be?”

It’s really okay if your wins are minuscule at first or don’t really feel like wins to you at all. Track them anyway. Eventually they will start getting bigger and then you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. The more you learn to notice what went right, the faster you’ll be able to come up with your wins and the easier this whole process will become.

Step 3: Pull out Your Small Wins Log when You need a Confidence Boost

As someone with many projects on the go, it’s important to do reviews from time to time. You can also use your small wins journal to lift you up on days when you’re feeling down or have maybe received a harsh piece of criticism.

You might also want to keep unofficial testimonials or feedback from people you’ve helped or inspired for the days when you can’t remember why you’re doing what you’re doing or you feel like you’re not making a difference. My friend Abe refers to this practice of logging nice feedback as keeping a “Woo File.” It’s a similar idea as tracking your small wins, and I actually do both.

Why Tracking Your Small Wins is Important

Tracking your small wins keep you calm, helps you enjoy your work more, and keeps you moving forward. It also conditions your mind to start thinking more positively and that will carry over into other areas of your life and make you a happier person. It’s amazing how one tiny practice can really transform your outlook on life.

Your Turn

Do you track your small wins? How has this practice transformed your work and life?

14 Comments

  1. Great post. Keeping a record of our small wins and achievements really helps us when we needs a boost. Even though I never write down my small achievements, I try to memorize how I had made it possible. That thinking itself fills my mind with a sort of confidence which helps me to come out from any fear of failure.

    • Emilie says:

      Awesome, Rainer. I will admit, I’m not as strict with this practice as I used to be. I don’t write down every little thing anymore. I do try to practice gratitude on a regular basis though and make a mental note of my wins like you do though. Definitely important.

  2. Jon says:

    Emilie,

    Thanks for writing this. It’s interesting how this post defines wins as in tangible completed tasks. There are other types of wins too, that are even more easily dismissed by being intangible.

    Just yesterday it was pointed out to me how I’ve won a lot recently (in terms of giant-inner-life-changes), yet have been dismissing these wins because they’re not “tasks on the To Do list”. Because I’ve not made much headway on my tangible tasks, I’ve been giving myself a hard time in believing I’ve done nothing – whereas to other people, I’ve done a lot on the intangible win side.

    It’s easy to forget the fact that not all success is about finished tasks or end results.

    Jon

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Jon,

      I think you can define small wins in any way you like. The examples I used in this post were in the context of productivity, which tends to involve discrete tasks, but there’s no reason you can’t include inner growth on your list. That’s absolutely worth recognizing, I agree.

      Also, congrats! Sounds like you’ve done some really important work on yourself recently. And that is very awesome.

      Emilie

  3. Margaux says:

    Shameless self-promotion here: I helped my company create an iPhone (soon to be Android) app to track wins. At the Apple App Store, search for “WinStreak.” It’s a super simple tool to write in all your small wins and what you want to be wins for tomorrow. You can transfer future wins to the next day’s wins (check out the Help—I won’t explain everything here), and there’s a calendar view so you can see how many days in a row you’ve recorded wins.

    I wouldn’t have mentioned this except it applies to the article. AND IT’S A FREE APP. So I’ve already been paid for it.

    Cheers!

  4. Erin OK says:

    I’ve often thought I should be doing this, thanks for the tips. I love an excuse to buy a beautiful new notebook! Then, I promise I will also designate a shelf for all my beautiful notebooks with different purposes.

    Occasionally friends will list my accomplishments, and for a moment I feel like the exact opposite of the basketcase I see in the mirror every day. But, they don’t do it very often! I should be doing it myself to look at whenever I feel down.

  5. tatiana says:

    I really enjoyed this post! It’s something Ramit Sethi talks about as well.
    But it’s something I never do. Probably, because like most people, I tend to measure my life by the large victories and whether or not my victories look like other people’s (particularly other people whose lives I envy).

    But if I paid more attention to the smaller victories, then I would also feel more confident, which I think naturally translates to larger wins.

  6. Rob Farquhar says:

    No, and I want to make a start after reading this. I actually have a morning journaling habit, and I’m now thinking of changing it into a before-I-go-to-bed one where I just write the day’s small wins down. I also have a notepad with me at most times, so that’ll help collect wins as I go.

  7. Em says:

    This is so true. I keep on getting surprised by how negatively focused my mind is. Everytime I feel down, I get through my own weblog archives and I read through what I’ve achieved in my life and whenever I felt good about something. It’s really weird how bad my memory is when it comes to feeling good. I read that stuff like it’s somebody elses writing and I wonder why on Earth is that? Why can I never remember that good things happened to me, too? Good thing those archives. It always cheers me up and makes me see just how much I’ve walked since then and how much I’ve grown.

  8. Margaret says:

    SO important! I think for me it’s because there isn’t a cheering section (friends not multipods, family not up-to-date, no significant other), it’s up to me to look back and acknowledge the progress I make to ensure my happiness and not get that feeling of being the hamster in a wheel ever again. Great post.

  9. Funny, my Wife and I were just having this conversation last night, that I don’t know how to, and should, celebrate the small wins. The ideas of yet another app or a physical notebook don’t appeal to me, I realize I already have a vehicle for this in Google Calendar. Every morning I already plan what the day should look like, every evening I modify that plan to how the day actually went. Prioritizing is as easy as dragging a chunk of time earlier during planning the next day. Looking back at previous weeks shows my previous productivity to myself, giving me that much needed confidence boost. From now on for every chunk of time I can write in the Description the wins of *my* actions. And all the text is searchable, so if I remember writing a specific phrase I can just search for the phrase rather than remember the event to which it was attached, and cut-and-paste large chunks of text or URLs if need be.

    This also has several productivity by-products so far:
    1) The task of organizing the calendar is a giant inner-win
    2) Collaborating on a project is as easy as inviting others to the event
    3) Teaching myself realistic time management to visually show when I’m overlapping incongruent tasks
    4) Using different colours for different projects I can see at a glance roughly how I divide my precious time
    5) I can multitask learning Polish with minimal effort by re-titling simple tasks and learning from repetitive glancing at the calendar throughout the day

    Powodzenia!

14 Comments Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Where Do You Keep Your Victories Once You Take Them? | The Blog of Living Curiously

Leave a Comment