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Why progress is the sweetest thing

“Hey, I can’t believe how far we’ve moved from where we were this morning. That’s really satisfying. I’m so happy.” No, I am not talking about a road-trip. I am talking about what we are trying to achieve at work.

Many leaders are concerned about how to motivate their employees. They know that engaged workers produce better results, are more creative, and care more for their work. However, just exactly which factors actually motivate and engage their teams has long been debated.

One of our favorite researchers is Harvard Business Professor Teresa Amabile. She has been researching motivation for years. Together with Steven Kramer, Professor Amabile has analyzed 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in seven companies to understand what motivates them. What they found was that it is not the big things that matter. It is actually the forward momentum in meaningful work that creates the best inner work in our lives. It is the small wins every day that matter the most. When we visited Amabile at Harvard she told us that the results from the analysis were amazing – even for them. The entire project is described in their book “The Progress Principle”.

At Brainwells we live by this every day. We plan our week out from the ambitions of how far we will proceed in the direction of a given goal. We acknowledge and celebrate how much we are able to move in the right direction, and make our plans accordingly. Now we are in the midst of planning and producing the launch of our first digital on-line program. There are about a zillion things to do, to understand, and to learn. The final destination is moving all the time. And we would be frustrated from here to eternity if we did not focus on how we actually proceed, instead of what we are trying to achieve.

Every Monday morning, we define the target for the coming week. We discuss and define every small step and task that needs to be done. And then we get going. For us it works best with a big poster on the wall with notes and post-it notes, so we can put a mark on the note every time a task is completed. Friday afternoon is the glory day. How far have we moved? The good thing is that no matter what setbacks, how many difficulties, or distractions we have experienced – when looking back at what we have actually accomplished the last week – it is always a lot! And that is a good feeling.

Here is our advice:

  • Plan your week (or your day). Whether you are part of a small team or all by yourself, it does not matter. Use a wall or a big sheet of paper. Define a number of realistic goals to achieve for the coming week or day. Break it down into doable tasks. Write the tasks on post-it notes. Do them – one at a time – and remove the post it or (even better) make a big cross with a marker on the one you have completed.
  • Do not think too big. Remember that even the biggest and most hairy goal has a set of sub-goals. Break it down in doable pieces. Remember, everyone can eat an elephant. You just need to start with a small part.


Blog courtesy of Brainwells

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