Keeping a progress log

Note: This was originally posted on the Sodaware Blog on November 14th, 2005.

Keeping a Progress Log

I've been keeping a progress log since the end of August, and although it's still far from perfect, it's been a great help on my self improvement odyssey. Recently I've modified it slightly to use a version of "The Printable CEO", and although I've not been using it for very long, I do feel like it's made an improvement.

Even though I use computers most of the time, I prefer to keep my log on paper as it means I can review it when I'm not in my office. I also think it gives it some character, although that's entirely down to personal preference. I also do everything by hand - no printing here. Perhaps "The Drawable CEO" would be a good name for it.

The basics

Using both sides of a single page for each week, I keep track of the following:

  • Weekly goals
  • My points monitor
  • My "b-Alert" tracker
  • What went right
  • What went wrong

I added a transparent pocket to the inside of the book, which I keep my 90 day goals in. I have 21 goals, divided into seven sections. In part two I'll explain these sections in more detail.

image-0008.jpg Each page starts with the date, and then the top three goals I wish to achieve for the week. I put checkboxes in front of each goal so I can tick them off when they're complete. The original system had me setting three goals for each day, but I felt this crowded the page a little too much and also distracted me if I had goals from the previous day that I hadn't completed.

Underneath this is my points tracker, and then underneath that is my "b-Alert" tracker. I took the b-Alert system from "The Power of Focus" (reviewed here). I also use the goal setting tips from the same book to make sure I'm covering the important aspects of my life. This will be covered in more detail in part two.

image-0009.jpg The back of the page is divided into two sections. The top two-thirds is "What went right", where I note anything important that was achieved. Reading over this gives me a boost, and helps remind me of what I've achieved during the week.

The remaining third is "What went wrong", which allows some analysis of where the week could have been improved. I deliberately kept it to a third to prevent myself from being overly critical, and also to focus myself on the major issues.

Where possible I use bullet points, as it makes it easier to scan for a quick overview. It's useful to look over this during my weekly review, as it helps me find areas for improvement.

In part two, I'll cover the trackers in detail, and also explain how I ensure I have balance in my goals.

Posted in: Time Management | Comments (3)


Productivity Toolbox - The Mind Dump

What is it?

The "mind dump" is a way of getting a lot of information out of your head and into your organisational system. It's a simple process that doesn't take particularly long, although it may take longer if you haven't done it for a while. It's a great way of clearing your mind, and it allows you to get a good view of your projects, commitments and tasks.

When do you use it?

A good time to perform a mind dump is at the end of every week, just before your weekly review. Another good time to use it is when you're feeling overwhelmed with work, or when your brain is swimming with ideas and you can't concentrate.

How do you do it?

Make sure you have at least twenty minutes of uninterrupted time, sit down and relax. Take a sheet of paper and write down a task you want to do. This can be something simple like making a phone call, to something larger like setting up a blog or starting a business. Absolutely anything goes, so write as much as you can. I generally write down at least a hundred items if I haven't done it for a while, but you may find you only write down fifty. The important thing is to get as much out of your head as possible.

You can either write every item on a separate sheet of paper, or write them all on to the same sheet. I prefer to write it all on one long list, but you may find separate sheets are easier to process.

How do you process the list?

This all depends on your organisational system, but a rough GTD method is as follows:

Go through each item on the list. If it's something that will require more than one task to complete, it's a project so it gets added to a "projects" list. If it's a single action that will take less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately. If not, add it to the appropriate "to-do" list.

If it's something you want to do, but don't know when (such as taking a holiday), write it on your "Someday/maybe" list. As soon as you process each item, cross it off the list or dispose of the sheet it was written on.

What are the benefits?

The main benefit of this technique is that it gives you a clear mind and helps you concentrate. Once you've processed the list, you know everything you were thinking of will be taken care of, and your mind can rest at ease.

Posted in: Productivity Toolbox | Comments (4)


How I overcame my fear of flying

I thought I'd share a personal story about my fear of flying, and how I managed to get over it. Over time, I've gone from having an almost paralysing fear about flying to actually enjoying the experience.

A little bit of history

My fear of flying really came about from a fear of heights that I've had for as long as I can remember. My first flight was in 1999, when my family and I travelled to Egypt. I don't remember much about the flight, apart from the fact that I hated it.

I didn't fly again until 2003, and since then I've made over 15 flights of varying lengths. My most recent flight was over nine hours, and it was the most relaxed travel experience I've had in a long time.

The most regular problem I had was having nightmares about planes crashing. They either involved me being a passenger on a plane that was crashing, or being an observer to a plane crash. Sometimes I would have these as often as once a night, but I generally had one at least once a week. They ranged in clarity, but the most vivid dreams felt completely real and often led to me waking up in a cold sweat.

Where did the fear come from?

Why are we so scared of flying? What factors make it scarier than something like taking a bus or a train?

Even though there's a much larger chance of being killed in a car accident, the fear of being killed on a flight seems to be much greater. It might be because plane crashes are always given a high media profile, or because they're often much larger than a road accident.

I think the main fear comes from the lack of control people have when they're flying. At least if you're driving you can swerve to avoid an accident, but if something goes wrong on a flight there's nothing you can do. That's quite a scary thought.

How I beat it

I didn't solve the problem in one go, but I took several smaller actions that all added up.

Beating the bad dreams

I used a technique I learnt from lucid dreaming, called the “reality check”. The idea is that whenever you perform a common action, you consciously ask yourself if you're dreaming. A good reality check to perform is closing your nose with your fingers and trying to breath through it. If you're dreaming, you'll be able to breath, which will induce a lucid state.

Because my nightmares involved planes, every time I saw a plane I would perform a reality check. This enabled me to become lucid in any dream that involved planes, and I could change the outcome to something more pleasant. It takes practice and discipline, but this really helped with the bad dreams.

Changing the visions of death

I used to associate flying with visions of death, which didn't exactly help the fear. I made a conscious effort to stop myself whenever these thoughts came up, and to think about a more peaceful situation. For example, I changed these visions so that instead of the plane plummeting into the ground, it would crash land and everyone would make it off unharmed. Instead of seeing myself paralysed in terror, I transformed the image of myself into someone calm who offered help to the other passengers.

It sounds simple, but it made a big difference to my general attitude about flying.

Educating myself

To put my mind at ease, I looked around to learn about the safety checks that are performed, and how safe various airliners are. These few pieces of information made a huge impact, mostly because they appealed to the logical side of my brain. Flying is safe. Really safe.

Learning to enjoy it!

I've found that getting a window seat makes the flight much more enjoyable. Some of the views can be absolutely breathtaking, especially around takeoff and landing. Take some time to reflect on how amazing it is, and it will help you relax. Alternatively, watch every single film they show to take your mind off things.

Future flights

Since I started using these techniques, I've been able to enjoy the experience of flying. It takes time and a proactive approach, but beating the fear of flying is within everybody's grasp.

Posted in: Overcoming Fear | Comments (3)


How a blog article is born

If you're new to blogging, it can sometimes be difficult to put your ideas into a post. How do you get from an idea to a fully fledged blog article? Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Create some ideas

Brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Think about the subjects you want to write about, and the titles of articles that you'd want to read/write about. The important part at this stage is to get as many ideas down on paper as possible, and not to criticise them. Quantity is the important factor at this point.

Refine an idea

Once you have a nice long list of ideas, it's time to pick which subject you're going to write about. Pick the title that appeals to you most, and then take a new sheet of paper (or word processor document) and start brainstorming ideas about it. As before, quantity is what we're going for here.

To get you started, ask yourself the following questions whilst you're brainstorming:

  • What do you want to teach? – If you're writing an instructional post, ask yourself what you want to teach? What knowledge do you want your readers to gain?
  • What idea(s) do you want to spread? – Do you want to plant the seed of an idea in your readers' minds? What possibilities do you want to open their minds to?
  • What issues do you want the reader to think about? – Are you trying to draw attention to a current world issue? If so, what is it? Do you want your readers to take action about it?
  • Do you want to stir creativity? – Do you want your readers to take creative action about something? Do you want poems or drawings?
  • What comments do you want to receive? – If you're trying to get feedback on something, what kind of feedback are you looking for? Sometimes the best way is to ask your readers and see what they come up with. If you're wanting to cause a stir, what hornets nest are you going to poke with your stick?

These questions aren't appropriate for all blog posts, but they give a good idea of where to start.

Create an outline

Now that you have a list of what points you want to cover, it's time to create an outline. The outline is the framework which your article is based around.

Create headings from points that you want to cover, and think about how much text you want to devote to each particular point.

Write it (finally!)

Now all the planning is out of the way, it's time to get writing. Hurrah!

At this stage, you are still concentrating on writing. Don't be tempted to edit what you've written, as it slows down the creative process and can induce writer's block. You may end up repeating the same sentence several times in a paragraph, but leave that for the editing stage. Writing and editing are two separate activities, and they should really be done at separate times.

Take a break

Once everything is written down, take a break from writing and do something completely different. Go out for a walk or whatever, but make sure you take a break. This gives you time to think about what you've written, and you'll come back more refreshed and ready for the next phase.

Edit it

Editing can be broken down into two phases:

  1. Initial reading – Read through your article, and highlight any parts you think could use a rewrite. You can use the note taking option in most word-processors, and leave notes around items you wish to revise. If it's a big article, it may also be beneficial to have somebody else proof-read it for you too.
  2. Rewriting – Rewrite any of items you noted in the first instance. This can be quite a difficult process, so be patient with it.

You may want to repeat this process several times for important pieces, but once is generally enough to catch most problems.

Make it look nice

Check everything is formatted nicely. Have you broken the text up with headers, bullet points, diagrams etc? Does the article appeal to the eye? Formatting is often overlooked, but a well formatted article can be a real benefit to the reader.

If you're not sure about your formatting, try looking at it yourself from a reader's point of view. What areas are your eye drawn to? Would any of the text benefit from being broken up with a picture, or split into a new paragraph entirely?

Create your title

Now that you're happy with how your article reads and looks, it's time to think of a title. A good title should be:

  • Clear – Make sure the reader knows what the article is about
  • Concise – Avoid making the title too lengthy.
  • Emotive – The more emotional the title, the better.

If someone has subscribed to your RSS feed, the title may be the one chance you have to convince them to read the rest of the article.

All done!

This methodology is probably too long for shorter articles, but if you're wanting to write something a bit longer than it is very beneficial to break the process down into manageable chunks. As well as making the process simpler, it will also make your final article more readable, and that's a big benefit for your readers.

Posted in: Writing | Comments (2)


Goal Setting for Beginners

On Thursday I wrote about achieving your goals, and today I'm going to write an introduction into the process of goal setting. This is a quite a common subject in most personal development books, so I'm going to try and cover the most important elements.

What is a goal?

In its simplest form, a goal is a result you want to achieve. This can be anything, from a car that you want to own to a skill you want to develop. A goal is a target that helps you to focus your activities towards getting what you want, and gives you starting point for prioritising your actions.

What makes an excellent goal?

A lot of factors go into making an excellent goal, and some parts may work better for you than others. The common characteristics of a an excellent goal are:

  • It's written down – Not only will writing your goal down help you to remember it, but it will also help to drill it into your subconscious. If you're hesitant about writing your goal down, it may be a sign that it isn't actually what you want.
  • It's inspiring – It's all too easy to choose a goal that you know you'll achieve with minimum effort, but you're only selling yourself short. One thing you'll quickly realise when setting big goals is that even if you don't achieve them, you still achieve far more than if you'd set a tame, easily achievable goal. Big goals help to inspire positive action, and are a highly beneficial tool for personal growth. Don't be tempted into setting an uninspiring, tepid goal. It might seem like the best option, but you won't gain as much in the long term.
  • It has a deadline – Giving your goals a deadline is an important step. By setting a deadline, you automatically enter a phase of setting priorities. A deadline is also beneficial when creating a plan from your goal, because you can get a better idea of how long you have and what kinds of steps you should take.
  • It's flexible – People and circumstances change, and your goal should be able to adapt accordingly. Change is not a bad thing, and it's not a bad thing to modify your goals. After all, you'll be learning as you move towards achieving it and you'll certainly find ways to improve what you're doing.
  • It's specific – Goals should be as specific as possible. The more specific you make your goal, the easier it will be to create a plan to achieve it.
  • It's measurable – At any point in time, your should be able to say whether the goal has been achieved or not.

Getting help with your goals.

Don't be afraid to ask for help with your goals. There are several ways you can go about this, from telling everybody to telling nobody. Some methods may work better for you than others, so it's best to experiment to find what suits your style:

  • Tell the World – Tell every man (and his dog) about how you're going to achieve your goal. This can add a lot of pressure, so be sure it's something you want to do. Some people thrive on this pressure, whereas others can be stifled by it.
  • Tell a few friends – This time you're more selective about who you tell. Your friends can be a good source of encouragement, so don't be too hasty to overlook this option. Be careful not to tell friends who are overly negative, as they may discourage you.
  • Tell a single person – Find one person whom you want to motivate them and tell them of your goal. Have them contact you on a regular basis to see how you're progressing. This can be a good option if you have a friend who is willing to help you through to the completion of your goal.

Achieving the goal

This was covered in more depth in Thursday's post, but to briefly review it:

  • Plan your goal – Create an action plan toward completing your goal. This should outline the actionable steps involved, and possibly a rough timeline with milestones. The amount of detail depends on your individual style, but it should at least include one concrete action that will move you towards the completion of the goal.
  • Review it regularly – Review your goals and their plans as regularly as possible. I recommend taking half an hour every morning to read over your list of goals to energise you for the day ahead. This also keeps things fresh in your mind so you can prioritise your actions accordingly.

The most important thing to remember…

Don't be afraid to fail! Everybody fails at some point in their lives, but the real test is how you cope with your failure. Use it as a learning experience. Examine where you went wrong, and look at how you can prevent it from happening again. The chances are that in a few years you'll look back on the "failure" and realise it was the best thing that ever happened to you.

Posted in: Goal Setting | Comments (4)