The title of today’s blog post is “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” Have you heard of this saying before? I learned it when I was starting out my career in HR at my old day job. Basically, if supervisors aren’t diligently documenting employees’ performance issues, you have no leg to stand on if they get fired for bad performance and sue you or file for an unemployment. You can say “Well, we fired Yuko because she was doing a terrible job!” but if you can’t tell the judge or the employee any specifics, it’s not very helpful.
But today, I’m not talking about HR best practices. I’m talking about the importance of documenting the steps you took to accomplish your goals.
Have you ever had moments where someone asks you, “So what did you do today?” and you go, “Uh, I was really busy. I did stuff… but can’t remember what I did??” Trust me, I’ve been there. Especially at my day job because I was wearing multiple hats and was constantly multi-tasking (you know how fond of multi-tasking I am… NOT). By the end of the week I was like, where have I been? What did I really do? I was busy. I was doing stuff. But what did I actually accomplish??
My husband, Dave, has been keeping a journal for a few years. It’s not the “Dear Diary” type of journaling, which I have done, but more like bullet points, here is what I did today. He started doing that because he’s been self-employed for many years and was having the same problem of remembering what he did each day. In his journal, he writes down things for work and non-work stuff, like “I planted potatoes today.” although as permaculture teacher and designer, planting potatoes is sort of related to his work 🙂
Earlier this year at my day job, I started a career development program for employees and encouraged folks to start writing down what they’ve done each day to achieve their career goals. It’s a great way to keep track of your progress and also to show their supervisors what they’re accomplishing in their day-to-day. And I encouraged the supervisors to do the same and write down what their employees are doing well and where they’re struggling.
It helps the employees see what they’ve been doing to reach their career goals and have the documentation to look back on when we meet for our goals check-ins. It provides supervisors cohesive overview of how their employees have been doing over time and helps identify their strengths and challenges. Not to mention a good back-up documentation if they ever have to let someone go because of a poor performance (Yikes!) or promote someone for exemplary performance (Yay!).
Of course, this tool is very practical and useful for anyone who is pursuing their goals!
So, let me tell you how I use the documentation to stay motivated and focused on my goals.
Back in March of this year, I started meeting with an accountability partner once a month. Accountability partner is someone you meet regularly to check in about goals and challenges. They listen, offer support and problem-solve with you if necessary, and you do the same for them. I’m fortunate to have two of them, which I’ll write more about in my future blog post.
Anyway, in our meetings, we each set a few concrete goals to work on before the next meeting. And in the following meeting, we share how we did with our goals and set our next goals.
Because I wanted to be able to reflect back on my experience as accurately as possible, I started writing down what I did around my goals every day in a little notebook. It’s nothing elaborate – I just write down dates and tasks I accomplished that day. Before our next meeting, I would review what I’ve done and report back the summary of my accomplishments and challenges. It makes our meetings a lot more efficient, and I don’t have to waste my precious brain space to hold all the details.
People use different tools, including apps, to journal, but since I work on my computer all the time, I like using the physical notebook for taking notes and jotting down ideas.
I like to write them down as I go instead of waiting till the end of the day to do it. For instance, I got up this morning and finished a blog post, uploaded the title illustration, and scheduled the post on social media. So that’s what I wrote in my notebook. I like logging things as I go because chances are, I’ll forget to write them down or forget what I did! I’ve seen it happen many times to Dave because he sometimes batches his entries every few days and asks me if I remembered what he’s been doing!
I suppose calendars could work fine for this purpose, too, but I don’t track everything on my calendar. Like for this morning, I would just put “blog” on my calendar but not all the details. Calendar, however, is helpful for tracking time. It’s interesting to see how much time a particular project takes. I’m not super conscious about it usually because I normally don’t finish things in one sitting.
For example, when I’m writing a blog post, I start with a rough draft where I just let it come out of my head and start typing without worrying about grammar or structure. Then I’ll step away and work on something else for a while. I might come back to the post the next day and start editing. Usually I complete one blog post over 3 to 4 days. When I added up the hours, I learned it takes about 8 hours from start to finish, including creating the title illustration and scheduling posts on social media. I work very similarly when I’m creating an art piece, too. It helps to clear my head from one thing and be able to look at it with fresh eyes later.
Going back to keeping a daily documentation, It’s been 6 months since I started it, and my notebook is almost full! It’s very satisfying, and I’m also looking forward to starting on a new *cute* notebook 🙂 Ah, the small pleasures of life…
I use the same notebook for my accountability meetings and my daily log, so notes about my goals and challenges are all in one place. These notes are nice to review not only to remember what you’ve been doing but also to see how far you’ve come.
Like I said before, I try not to compare myself to other people. It’s one thing to learn from other people, but once it turns into jealousy or competitiveness, it’s no longer helping you achieve your goal. Instead, compare yourself now to yourself 3 months ago. 6 months ago. 3 years ago. When you look at your work from 3 years ago and compare it to what you do now, you should be able to see how you’ve improved. With your daily documentation, you can now tell what you’ve done to get here.
It’s interesting to look back on my notes now, though, because many of the goals I set and struggles I was having don’t seem nearly as challenging as they did then. For example, uploading all the portfolio pieces to a new licensing website seemed so daunting back in April. But since it’s been done for several months, I don’t even think about it. So when I have similar challenges now, I know that the actual hardest part is getting started. It doesn’t feel as scary because I’ve done it before, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought.
As I write this, I’m realizing I need to start documenting “how” I do things too. I document the process when I work on client project so I can tell them how I ended up with the solution, but not so much for my day-to-day things. As I grow my business, I would probably be hiring some helping hands down the road, and it would be nice to be documenting my procedures now for training people later. Note to self!
I like to celebrate small successes every day. As a creative business owner, I know there will never be a day when I’ll cross everything off my list. I also know that it can take years to grow your business, and you may not see any results for a long period of time. It can be depressing and discouraging at times. That’s why it’s so important to keep a documentation of the small progresses you make every day. When you do see results from your business, you’ll know how you got there and what you’ll need to keep doing to reach your dream.
Start writing down what you’re doing! So next time someone asks you what you did all day, you have bullet points to give them 🙂
p.s. I have two art shows going for the month of October! Original works from my 365 Day Happiness Project will be on display and for sale at Common Ground Coffee & Cupcakes until the end of October (*Artist reception on Friday October 2, 6-9pm!) and my brand new watercolor abstract paintings will be on display and for sale at Geraldine’s Counter during the month of October as well.