How many of you are still keeping up with your New Year’s resolutions? How many of you even remember what they were? It’s easy to give up on a goal after a few days of slacking, whether that goal is to exercise every day, or to grade student essays faster. The problem with long-term goals is a lack of any short-term reward (which I guess is why they’re long term goals). I’m not saying you should expect to lose ten pounds in a day, but you should have just a little incentive to remind you why you’re grunting and sweating instead of watching TV.
Teachers give incentives every day when they hand students back their homework. Scrawling an A+ or, for young’uns, affixing those little gold stars to a well-done math assignment can give them the short-term confidence boost they need while they strive to meet the long-term goal of learning mathematics.
As an adult, I’m not ashamed to admit I need a little gold star once in a while to keep me motivated and productive. Here are a few tips on how tiny rewards can make a big difference in meeting your goals.
Track your progress
Your gold star can take many forms, and can be as trivial as a check mark in your daily planner, so long as you have some sort of trophy to commemorate your daily success. There are a thousand ways to do this, some as simple as crossing an item off your to-do list. If you want a more high-tech solution, you could use an application like Joe’s Goals, in which you can actually keep score of your productivity. You set up your goals, such as doing your daily sit ups, and assign a point total for each check mark. You can also track bad habits, like oversleeping, which will deduct from your score. Hey, everything is more fun when points are on the line.
Personally, I’ve been using Sciral Consistency to keep track of my daily writing. Some days I write for two hours, some days just for 10 minutes. Either way, I mark it off. Yeah, some days are more productive than others, but I know I’ll feel more motivated tomorrow if I know I at least did something today. That leads to my next point:
Something is better than nothing
Meeting any goal on a daily basis isn’t easy. What is easy is telling yourself that, “Well, I’ve only got 15 minutes to spare, that’s not really enough time to do much, so why bother?” Poppycock! You’ve probably told your students a time or two that if something is important, you have to make time for it, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by making the most of those short “in between” times. Will you get much done? Probably not. But you’ll accomplish more than would have if you’d just sat around. You might even do more than you thought you could in that time. Get in the habit of seizing these nooks and crannies in your day, and you’ll be amazed at how much more you’ll get done.
The chain method
Lifehacker has a great post on the effectiveness of daily progress, imparted to the author by Jerry Seinfeld (yes, that Jerry Seinfeld). Behold the wisdom of Seinfeld’s chain method, as told by Brad Isaac:
[Seinfeld] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
Note the reward is not only the gold star (or rather, red “X”) itself, but for how long you can keep collecting them. Any Major Leaguer can get at least one hit in a baseball game. Doing it 56 games in a row made Joe DiMaggio a legend.
A tangible reward, however slight, can have a big effect on what you do. If you need a little extra motivation to meet your long-term goals, give yourself a gold star every day you work toward them. There’s no telling what you can accomplish. -BILL FERRIS
Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret via Lifehacker
Photo credit: lenchensmama. on flickr.