How do you measure progress?

Starting something new is easy. Finishing it is a lot harder. Too many projects get started and never completed. Too many goals get set and then abandoned.

Creating a meaningful sense of progress is an important part of keeping momentum in the face of setbacks and distractions. How you do it depends on the type of goal you’re chasing.

Close-ended goals have a clear finish line that you control. Completing a training class, launching a new website, and building a shed are good examples. Success is well-defined, and it’s pretty clear how far along you are in the journey.

I’m working on a training class on Udemy. It uses a simple doughnut chart to show percentage completed. As of this morning, I’ve finished 92 of 137 modules, which means I’m 67% of the way through the class. This progress gauge has helped me stick with the class through the middle dip, where the excitement of starting something new has worn off, but the energy that comes from being close to the end hasn’t kicked in yet.

In contrast, open-ended goals don’t have a clear finish line. Reading one book per week, exercising every morning, or looking for a new job are good examples. Success requires you to do it indefinitely, or involves a finish line that isn’t clearly demarcated in advance.

I’m also doing exercise classes on the Daily Burn. It uses running totals to show how many classes I’ve completed, minutes I’ve exercised, and calories I’ve burned since joining. Those totals create a feeling of accomplishment out of what could otherwise be a burdensome, repetitive chore.

The running totals helped me stick with exercising for months now, because I’m proud of my cumulative efforts. But, they haven’t been as influential on me as Udemy’s doughnut chart.

I’ve taken three lessons away from my training and exercise experiences:

  1. It’s worth the time to create and use a measure of progress, if you’re serious about hitting a goal.
  2. The nature of your goal naturally drives the design of your measure of progress. Percentage completed makes the most sense for a close-ended goal, a running total for an open-ended one.
  3. For extra impact and influence, look for ways to create goals more closely aligned with the measure of progress that’s most motivating. For me, that means converting open-ended goals (e.g., exercise daily) to close-ended versions (e.g., exercise daily for a month), so I can track percentage complete.

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