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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Thursday
Dec012011

9 Things, Part 3

This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.

Thing #3: Know How Far You Have to Go

There are two parts to this. First, you need feedback to know if you’re making progress toward your goal. If you don’t have that information, you can’t make adjustments to your strategies or behavior. Timely feedback — and making changes based on it — helps you moving in the right direction. Remember those if-then plans from Thing #2? Make sure that one of them is to assess your progress at regular intervals.

The other part is that you need to focus not on what you’ve done, but on what you have left. Research shows that doing too much of the former decreases your sense of urgency, making it harder to stay motivated to reach your goal. By looking at what you have to go, you keep your eyes on the prize and make it more likely that you’ll win it.

By now you probably know that I thrive on feedback and measure a lot of things that other people don’t, so the first part of this idea is something I’ve been doing on almost all of my projects for a while. When I was working on the initial draft of the novel, I knew I needed to keep tabs on my progress, so my goal was to keep my per-day average above 250 words a day. It was tough going for the first few weeks, and I struggled to maintain the pace. One of the biggest problems I had was I would write a ton one day and then coast. I knew how much I could slack and still keep my average above the threshold. This “spike-y” progress was both stressful and ultimately unproductive.

Around week six, I discovered the research that tipped me off to my problem and I changed my strategy. Every week after that, I set myself a writing quota of 2000 words. Every day, instead of looking at how many words I’d written that week, I looked at how many I still had to go. If the number of words I written that day was less than the number I’d have to average for the rest of week to hit my quota, I’d write more. Suddenly my output became a lot steadier, and I picked up speed. After two weeks, I had no trouble hitting my count. A few weeks after that, I raised my quota to 2500, and I hit it every week until I finished the draft. Simply by making myself aware of how far I had left to go, I got there faster.

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