Tracking your progress, no matter what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, serves as both a motivator and a tool to determine what works and what doesn’t. In my experience, it’s one of the best things that you can do if you want to see results and see them quickly.
There are quite a few different ways to track your progress, and we’ll go through those in a bit, but first:
Why should I track my progress?
No more wasting time
Our brains are biased. When you aren’t tracking your progress, you may feel that certain actions give you better results or that you aren’t actually moving forward at all. Our experiences and thoughts about them are subjective and rarely all that accurate.
By tracking your progress, you give yourself objective data. When you have the data, you can determine unequivocally which methods and actions work best for you and which don’t work at all.
This allows you to put more time and energy into things that work and to stop wasting time on things that don’t. The results? More results in less time. Who doesn’t want that?
It’s a strong motivator
Tracking your progress is a motivator in a couple of different ways.
First, it’s a form of gamification. When you start tracking daily, you build a streak. That streak can keep you motivated as you now have the added goal and motivation of not breaking the streak. Maybe you don’t want to work out today, but if you haven’t skipped any workouts in eight weeks, who wants to break that streak?
Second, as I just mentioned, you’ll see faster progress! Progress is a very strong motivator. It’s easy to feel down and consider quitting when it feels like all of your hard work isn’t paying off. But when you’re tracking your actions and focusing on the most successful tactics, your progress speeds up.
Tracking your progress also helps you to notice small improvements that may not have been picked up on without the data. It’s easy to overlook the little things, but the numbers don’t lie.
If you’re anything like me and enjoy numbers, data, and statistics, tracking your actions and progress is interesting.
This is a pretty great bonus because one of the most common reasons we quit our endeavors is that they become boring. It’s much harder to stay interested, motivated, disciplined, and consistent when you’re bored out of your mind. Having an interest in your goals makes working on them way more fun.
How do I track my progress?
There are quite a few different ways to measure your progress. What works best for you will vary based on what it is that you’re tracking and what is most convenient for you.
If you’re not sure what gamification is, I have an entire post about that. In that post, I include a couple of tracking strategies, my favorite being the one that I used to track my gym sessions.
Not all forms of gamification inherently track your progress, but most can be modified to do so. Keeping a “streak” is one of the most frequently used and easiest ways to gamify your actions. This is especially useful for small daily actions like meditating, taking vitamins, or practicing a skill.
There are tracker apps out there that you can use to track your streak, or just mark it on your calendar. You could also reward yourself with small treats if your streak reaches a certain length.
Use an app
If your phone never leaves your side, an app can be a great way to track your progress. Many apps will even track it for you or are built for tracking a specific type of progress.
Apps like these are fun because many of them analyze the numbers to show you trends, give recommendations, or predict your future results if you continue as you currently are.
A good old-fashioned notebook
There’s no need to get fancy. In fact, getting fancy and hunting for the exact right app or tracking strategy can easily hinder progress. If you don’t let yourself start until you’ve figured out the “perfect” tracking method, it’s easy to procrastinate for weeks or months.
When I started working out, I tracked all of my workouts in a little 4”x6” notebook which served me perfectly well for over a year. It was only recently that I switched to something new—the notes app on my phone.
Don’t overthink it. Grab a notebook, write the date, note down your actions for the day and what kind of progress you’ve seen. If you want to get a little fancier, or you’re kinda nerdy, I’ve also used a spreadsheet to track progress.
If you later stumble across a better way to track your progress, just add your old data into the new tracker. Tracking through a notebook is also great because it’s super simple to look back at old records and see just how far you’ve progressed. Always a great motivation booster!
For my bullet journalers out there, if you find you’re consistent with your bujo-ing, you could make a tracker inside your bullet journal as well. There are plenty of useful and cute tracker ideas on Pinterest and Reddit (although you probably already knew that).
How to track successfully
As with any other endeavor, you want to set yourself up for success when you start monitoring your progress. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help yourself see the most results.
One thing at a time! I say this often because it is so, so, so important! If you aren’t currently tracking anything at all, suddenly starting a dozen different trackers is a recipe for disaster. You’ll feel overwhelmed and likely quit early on.
Start small and build up momentum. If you can consistently track one thing for several weeks, you’ll have much more success with the next thing you decide to track. Stick to only adding one or two new trackers each month.
Tracking your progress lets you know when you’re moving forward, but unfortunately, you’ll also be aware of the times when you’ve stagnated. There will be times where the weight stops going up or down, where you lose your streak, or where things just aren’t going well.
To make it through these times, it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself. When you find your efforts lapsing or your progress stalling, take it as a sign that you need a rest. Give yourself a few days to take it easy so that you can pick it up again with renewed vigor.
If you’re new to tracking and even the idea of it intimidates you, start by tracking without the pressure of progress. For example, if you’re tracking your caloric intake with the aim of gaining or losing weight, start just by tracking your current intake. Once you’ve consistently tracked your current intake for a week or two, then start making adjustments to meet your new goals. Go easy on yourself.
Make it convenient
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most important things that you can do to help yourself stick with a new habit is to make it convenient.
For many, tracking your progress on your phone will be convenient. If this doesn’t work, maybe a notebook on your bedside table, a paper taped to your bathroom mirror, or tracking in tandem with a friend could help make it more convenient. Make it as easy as possible for yourself.
Start with only tracking the basics. Maybe in the long run you’d love to track every little aspect of your workout down to your weight before and after and your water intake, but to start, keep it simple. Track the most important parts of the workout and build up from there. Start small.
Take time to reflect
The data that you collect contains much more information than you may realize. Make time regularly to crunch some numbers and do some reflection.
Depending on what it is that you’re tracking, your actions may not exactly line up with your progress, especially if progress partially depends on other people. Still, there will be trends that you can learn from.
It’s important to track accurately. Inaccurate tracking is useless and potentially harmful. One reason many people fail to lose weight is due to inaccurate calorie tracking. If you’re not seeing the results you expect, make sure you’re being honest with yourself and measuring as accurately as possible.
Results will come. Use the numbers to your advantage.