I've been freelancing my whole professional life, and one thing I've learned from being entirely responsible for my own progress is how difficult it is to do - i.e., to persist on a regular basis in a disciplined way - without some form of tracking and accountability.
I was reminded of this when I read "Forget Big Data. Use Little Data For Incremental Self-Improvement" this morning over at 99u.
"Little data" is information you collect about your everyday activities and habits that you can analyze for self-improvement. Its value is grounded on "the progress principle," discovered by Teresa Amabile from Harvard Business School and her colleague Steven Kramer. In their book, The Progress Principle, they write:
John Caddell, creator of 3-Minute Journal (I'll talk more about that site in a bit), elaborates:
Many days, I can't even remember what I did yesterday, or the other day. But I know that if I could only see the actual amount of time I waste day to day, I would be shocked.
So, whether to feel good about yourself for consistent work, or at worst, to guilt yourself into action after too many days of not taking any, log your activity daily. Everyone already knows that success requires self-discipline as much as, if not more than talent, and a daily record can help you keep the faith that your efforts are building up towards something.
As an example, I just started keeping separate daily records for work, exercise, and hobbies that require repeated practice (e.g. language learning, practicing a musical instrument, etc.). I use a simple calendar template in iWork's Numbers to do this. For exercise and sports, I record form tapes to check on my progress; it's the next best thing in the absence of a coach or trainer.
In all of these endeavors, particularly if you're an entrepreneur or freelancer, you are your own coach. The daily record is there to remind you to keep pushing yourself.
Equally important is doing the same thing for your emotional life. This is a simple web app that does just that: http://www.3minutejournal.com/. It asks you to reflect on a deceptively simple question everyday: What one thing happened today that you'll remember most?
Whether you're a freelancer, entrepreneur, employee, or student, if you're feeling stuck in a daily, repetitive slog, try this exercise out and see if it works for you. You just might surprise yourself.