Making progress. And how it fuels you.

Objective feedback and visible progress

Are you working in a job that involves doing things on a computer or sitting and debating in meetings? Then you may have had this craving: Doing something with your hands. I find it very satisfying to do something manual that doesn’t involve a screen or a key board. Like cleaning the windows or mowing the lawn.
Why is that? For one, it provides a balance to a job that only uses cognitive resources. Unless you’re walking to another meeting room or make yourself a coffee you don’t use your motor skills in an office job.
There’s no balance – and we know it’s all about balance. Too much work isn’t good and might get you burnt out. Too little for too long and you get bored out. Both are dangerous. So it’s all about finding the sweet spot.
But that’s not all. Another aspect of this manual type of work (painting the walls, tidying up your apartment) is that you can see what you have accomplished. All along the way you know exactly how much you have achieved, how much you still have to do and if you’re on the right track. And guess what – the fact that you don’t see the progress you make in your office job might be the very thing that robs you of your motivation!

What research found about making progress

There are actually studies to back this up. The researchers said “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.” Managers tend to get that wrong a lot. 
Whenever someone discusses the issue of motivating people, people think of rewards (money). Or, when the company is on a saving spree, they propose more recognition. Being awarded, presenting to senior management or receiving a pat on the back. That might already be a bit better and longer lasting than increasing the pay check. But it still doesn’t hit the sweet spot.
So what can you do? Well, make your progress visible! Next to the need of doing something useful, this can help you stay motivated to keep on and finish the task. And you get that satisfying, rewarding feeling like when cleaning the dishes (or doing some other manual task).
This could look like
  • Keep a log of the scientific articles you have to read and summarised. Put a progress bar behind every entry. Keep filling the progress bar twice a day.
  • Check the number of unread emails after you return from your vacation. Watch that number decreas as go through delete, archive or respond to the messages.
  • Create a “ta-dah” list of all the things you have done that day. Think about how they are meaningful in the context of you team or your organisation.
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