You set your goals. You set your metrics. You set your frequency. You conclude how often you will gauge your progress. You decide on the tools you will use.
Whether you decide to exercise, read, learn, or quit smoking, your goal and strategy should be clear. You don’t just say to yourself, “I sure hope this time I’ll exercise regularly.” You describe your desired end result. You need a plan to achieve it. You translate this plan into a regular schedule, and you keep to that schedule.
Progress Measurement Is a Cornerstone of Achievement.
I just can’t imagine developing a habit without such a tool. Well, maybe being consistent with daily tasks you are passionate about won’t be a big deal. But life has a nasty tendency of getting in your way. You might forget to do your habit today. You might be overwhelmed by a multitude of chores and duties.
Tracking Is Essential for Progress.
It gives you the most important information: did you show up at all? Your tracking will also provide many additional insights to help you excel at your habit. What time? How long? How good? How many times? You won’t know the answers to those questions if you don’t log this information somewhere.
During the past couple of years, I’ve tracked multiple things in my life. I recorded my diet and the things I spent time on. I still record how many words I write every day, the business-related activities I do, and my fitness performance.
Tracking Must be Quick and Easy
And “easy” means easy for you, not for me. If I tell you to track your habit in an app on your mobile device and you don’t even own such a device, just imagine the amount of hassle you’d have to endure to implement my advice. You would have to buy the device, configure it, install the application, and learn how to use it. And that assumes you can afford to buy the device in the first place.
The rule of thumb I always give regarding tracking is that it should be easier than performing your habit. For example, if you are developing a habit of doing pull-ups and you have a bar in your apartment, then just hang the calendar next to the bar or in front of it, so when you do pull-ups, you see the calendar. As soon as you get down from the bar, take a pen and mark the day. It just can’t be easier than that.
This example also contains the second necessary element of tracking—it should be easily incorporated into your routine.
Your Tracking System Should Be Yours
You should own it in your mind. Don’t use an app if it feels awkward to you. You already have to deal with a resistance against your new habit. You don’t need to add more resistance by introducing a tracking system that feels uncomfortable. Listen to my suggestions, but develop methods that will be natural for you.
Of course, some level of uneasiness is necessary. Every new activity you start will feel a bit uncomfortable at the beginning. Often, you just need to survive through this initial period of discomfort to firmly ground a new habit or tracking system for it.
I recommend sticky notes and a pen as the most basic tracking system for anything. Carry them with you always and jot down short notes about your habits. You can register those notes in a more sophisticated tracking system when it’s convenient. I used to track most of my activities that way and then log those tracking entries in the files as soon as I reached my computer.
The Handy Passe-partout
One tool I highly recommend is the Coach.me application. It was developed for tracking daily habits in life. Their interface is flexible enough to adjust it for your purposes. You can set the frequency of your activity (from once a day to once a week).
You can add a note to each of your check-ins to provide more data and leave a track in time. For example, if you do pushups every day, you can add the number of pushups to each entry, and you will journal the road of progress that way.
You can also set your goal as private so only you will see your entries, or public so every Coach.me user could see it; this is a good accountability trick.
I had a multitude of journals, and some of them serve only as a tracker.
For example, I keep a writing log where I note down the length, time, type and speed of my writing. I’ve kept it since September 2013. The main goal of this tool is to make sure I write at least 1,000 words a day, but I got all kinds of interesting data points from it, like the fact that my average writing speed increased by 83%.
I have an online progress journal in which I document most (I try to include all, but I’m only human) of my business activities. I use it also to track my sleep and fitness records.
Regulate Your Tool
Your tracking and journaling tools should be according to their goals. In my online journal, I only jot down how long I slept each day.
This daily tracking obligation makes me aware of my sleep habits. I always check the time when I go to sleep and when I wake up, even if it’s only a 5-minute nap.
Had I wanted to use this data for other purposes, for example, to calculate exact monthly averages, length of sleep hours and naps, I would have used a different tool, most probably a Google or Excel sheet.
I also track all my expenses and income. Thanks to this activity, I am able to publish monthly income reports, which are kind of a tracking tool too.
When you are focused on a daily workload like I am, it’s easy to miss a bigger picture. The act of writing an income report from a year ago helps me to distance from a daily grind and measure my progress from some perspective.
The fact that I beat dozens of fitness records does not automatically mean that I am a success. I might have progressed in the fitness area, but have I progressed as a man in my whole life? My annual reports provide me with such insights.
I make all these reports public, because transparency is one of my most treasured values. Everybody is different and has different goals, so your tools and methods SHOULD be different than mine.
No matter what you want to measure and what method you will choose for that, create and keep it in a way that your notes are easy to review.
There is little sense in creating a vlog, if you never watch your own videos. Yes, the act of tracking itself magnifies your attention and focus on a given area of progress. However, actually referring to your notes and dwelling on facts and numbers make it much more effective.
This is one additional reason I make all those reports—they give me an excuse to go through my past entries.