Sense of Accomplishment

One of my employees shared a concern in a recent check-in, and it reminded me that it’s a concern I too have felt over the years:

“I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything concrete that I can touch. [This new project I’m working on] will hit that dopamine button.”

I touched on this point in another article. I noticed that as I transitioned from writing code to running the ‘business’ side of companies that I’ve started, I found it more difficult to concretely measure progress.

Here are a few techniques that I’ve discovered help me.

  • Acknowledge what you accomplish each day. At the start of each day, write down the 3 to 5 important things you want to get done (I originally got this idea from Marc Andreessen). Sometimes an old school piece of paper is best for this, right now I’m using a text file that is permanently open on my computer. As you complete an item cross it off (this is where paper shines — for some reason it feels really good to physically cross something off). At the end of the day reflect on the things you accomplished! Acknowledge yourself. This is similar to practicing gratitude which is a good general habit for life and happiness. [Pro tip for getting things done: share your 3–5 items with a coworker, or even the whole company. This helps create a sense of accountability.]
  • Get to the root purpose. This is particularly useful if you find yourself struggling to complete a task (you know, those ones you keep pushing over until the next day). Try using the famous 5 Whys method. Write down the task, then underneath write down why you want to do it, then write down why that’s important, then why that’s important… This will help you connect to the core purpose of the task, give you the motivation to get it done and truly feel the accomplishment when it’s finished.
  • Step back and take a broader view. It’s important to understand where your tasks fit into the broader picture (aka don’t loose sight of the forest for the trees). This helps make sure you are working on the right tasks, not just getting stuff done for the sake of getting stuff done, and is related to the root purpose above. The method I like to use here is to set quarterly goals (I use the OKR system I learned at Google). As you are writing down your tasks for the day take a moment to think about how they fit into your quarterly goals and ensure you are making progress against them.

I’ve found these simple techniques help me. If I had to boil it down, it’s about really becoming present to what you are getting done (track it), and why (get to the purpose). If you have techniques that work for you I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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