In this post, I revisit an old one about keeping track of accomplishments, no matter how small. Doing this led me to the idea of “best practices.” Businesses have them, why shouldn’t people?
A few years ago, I wrote this [very short] blog post:
Believe it or not, I have a hard time describing my accomplishments. In the abstract, I know that I’ve done some good stuff. In reality, I rarely feel like I’ve done anything because I have so much more left to do (and that I want to do). Yeah, I have two masters degrees… but I’m still working on a doctorate. Yeah, I’m going to be published in a textbook this year… but I still need to finish my dissertation. Yeah, I have a great job that I really like… but I still want to start my leadership development program for Black girls. See what I mean? It can be stifling.
Since I have recognized that this is a problem, I’m actively working on fixing it. And here’s how…
Recognizing my compulsive list-making, I bought a daily planner (green, Moleskine, 50% off… holler back) where I will list what I accomplish every day. Even if it’s nothing major (see above), there will be something in every entry because every day has something worth recording. I’m calling it my “done-did” book, and by December 31, 2014, it will be full of positive things that I done-did this year. (FYI, “done-did” = the opposite of “to-do.” Feel free to steal it. “Have done” is also an opposite, but it’s a little meh for me.)
My dissertation research on Black women and girls has shown me that this inability to recognize accomplishments is a very common issue for us. We rarely celebrate our success for fear of alienating others and/or drawing negative attention to ourselves. Also, many of us has been told that we have to “work twice as hard to get half as far” and we’ll only feel successful when we get to the other side. (This last one is the closest to my own situation.) But, despite these validation of my behavior, I’m still going to change it since it’s just not helpful. In the same way that seeing results from working out makes me want to work out more, I think that looking back on daily accomplishments will help push me forward.
Starting now, I’m going to celebrate what I done-did rather than focusing on what I have left to-do. That latter list will always be there, but it’s not going to prevent me from basking in the now.
TBH, I probably kept up that notebook for like 2 months after publishing that post. (Thank goodness it was on sale!) Why? Well for one, life caught up. At the time, I was still in the proposal stage of my dissertation (which, for me, was harder than the actual study) and I was working full time. I’d forget to write my “daily done-did” list one day, then miss it again for a week, then after awhile it just fell off completely. This is my typical pattern.
The second reason, however, it much more positive. The “daily done-did” list worked. Keeping track of my accomplishments, no matter how small, helped me to stop beating myself up about not yet achieving my ultimate, macro-level goals. So while didn’t keep up the practice of making these lists, my mindset shifted enough for me to be able to move forward without them.
So why I am bringing this up now? Because my mindset has slowly drifted back…
As I’ve written about elsewhere, I live in a less than ideal location to do the type of work that I’ve been preparing myself to do for the past few years. Since relocating almost exactly a year ago, it has been a definite struggle to figure out what to do about it. Writing on this website is definitely helping, but I didn’t get a doctorate to be a blogger. I got a doctorate to help people be better prepared for their post-school lives. My day job does this a bit, but it’s not always enough… Sometimes I can adopt a ‘Bloom where you are planted’ mentality and am able to make the most out of my situation. Other times, not so much.
So I went back to what had worked to well before – my done-did list. Instead of a green Moleskine, I’m using a 2016 planner that I bought in December and haven’t written in since February. (The number of slightly-used notebooks in my office is truly astounding.) I’ve been doing this for about two weeks, and it’s already working. I’m feeling way less existential stress, and even beginning to think of ways to incorporate my future plans into my daily life. Things are looking a bit brighter, and I can’t wait to see where my ideas take me.
This experience got me thinking about “best practices.” The term is usually used in the workplace in reference to the sets of rules or behaviors that always seems to provide the desired outcomes, but I strongly believe that people should have their own. Life if cyclical and, like history, it definitely repeats itself. Knowing your personal best practices can help you move forward when struggles from your past creep into your present. If I didn’t remember how successful creating accomplishment lists had been in the past, I’d probably still be dwelling on my circumstances instead of scheming on ways to make them better.
Knowing your personal best practices is also helpful in mitigating the potential effects of the bad situation, maybe to the point of it not happening again. If you know what works and what doesn’t – and keeping doing what works and avoiding what doesn’t – then you’re more likely to recover quickly when issues do arise. For me, what works is focusing on the positives and moving forward. What doesn’t work is thinking about how much better different my life would be had I not relocated (even though I have zero evidence that it would be any better). Having a tangible place to look at my progress will be useful the next time the what-ifs come crawling in.
If there is a recurring thing that you’re struggling with, think about how you’ve successfully tackled them in the past. Was there a specific activity or sequence of events that worked before? If yes, then do it again! If not, then pay attention this time around to what makes it better. This way, you’ll know exactly what to do (or at least, what to try first) if/when this happens again. Writing out the things that make you feel better will get you a go-to guide for getting over whatever craziness that life throws in your face. Knowing your best practices can help you live your best life.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make a worksheet to help you out! Download the Developing Your Personal Best Practices worksheet so that you can get (and stay) on the right track. Hope you enjoy the process.