3 ways to track progress on a big project

This year I set a goal to write 350 letters, and unlike when I've set big goals in years past, I'm actually making progress on this. I don't feel behind, I don't feel pressure, and I don't feel stressed about whether I'll complete it. As I thought about why this could be and how I could leverage whatever it is I'm doing with the letters project to make progress on other big projects, a common theme emerged. I realized I'd been systematically tracking my progress, which I think is making all the difference.

If you're a goal-setting ninja, then you're probably already doing this stuff - awesome! But I'm quite new to this concept of goal-setting and tracking. So if you're someone who struggles to start or follow through on big projects, read on and know that you are not alone!

no. 1 / Check off progress daily (or frequently, anyway)

I'm using this list to check off each letter in a really simple, visible way, but any number of things could work: a notebook filled with related to-dos that you add to and cross off everyday, a simple monthly calendar dedicated to your project, a spot in your planner where you check off your progress. Basically, what's working for me is having a simple way to check each letter off a list in a highly visible spot. It's encouraging to see progress being made, particularly since I don't have the letters in front of me. Once I write them, they're gone, so I don't have the satisfaction of building something tangible. "The list" helps me see my progress.

no. 2 / Gather and track relevant data

I knew before I wrote my first letter that at the end of this project I wanted more than to be able to say "I wrote 350 letters." Specifically, I wanted to know where all the letters went, who received them and why. And because I'm a stationery lady, I also wanted to track which cards I sent, their sizes and designers. I thought it would be really cool to look back over the year and be able to say "I sent letters to X number of countries. I mailed X number of birthday cards. I used X amount of my Happy Mail subscription."

Once I knew what data I wanted to collect, I came up with a system that worked for me to collect and organize it. I track everything using a spreadsheet in Google Drive, which I can access anywhere I have an internet connection, including on my phone or iPad. I add to it every time I write a letter. It's so fun to see who's received the letters so far, which cards they received and why and where in the world they've gone. The data itself is encouraging, and it's how I'm documenting the project and my progress, but I wouldn't actually keep track of the data without a really simple system. So if you're embarking on a project and you want to access data at the end of a period of time, and then consider what you want info you want in the end and come up with a simple system for tracking it.

 no. 3 / Share progress

This has been - by far - the biggest change in my goal-setting. I've never before been so transparent with my goals. Normally, I prefer to attempt (and fail) quietly or succeed on my own and then surprise everyone with my accomplishment. In the past, I've thought my goals were embarrassing or something. Forget it. I'm too old for that. So this year, I'm tracking my progress by sharing it. I created a hashtag on Instagram, I'm posting a monthly update on the blog, and I fill Nick in on my progress every week or so. I can't wait to check my hashtag at the end of the year to see photos of my first letters and my last. I love that I'll have a category on the blog devoted to this project. And every month, I jot down ideas in a notebook as Nick and I brainstorm ideas for the letters.

One more thing: I'm numbering the back of each envelope (i.e. 42 of 350). Many of the letter recipients will have no idea what it means. But for those who do, they'll be able to see how far along I am in the project.

Major accountability.

Sharing your progress is a way to track it - to stay accountable, be honest with yourself and get some encouragement when you need it. Need some inspiration for this one? Check out what Olya's doing.

What about you? Any tips for tracking progress on a big project?