08/20/2014 09:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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, which factors that actually motivate and engage their teams have long been discussed.

One of our favorite researchers, Professor Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School has been researching this for years. Among other things she has, together with Steven Kramer, analyzed 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies to understand what motivates them. What they found was that it's not the big things that matters, it's the forward momentum in meaningful work that creates the best inner work lives. It is the small wins every day that matter the most. When we visited Amabile at Harvard she told us that the results were amazing even for them. The entire project is described in their book The Progress Principle. 2014-08-19-theProgressPrinciplebookcover.jpg

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 planning accordingly. These days 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. 2014-08-19-LCFProgress.jpg

On Monday mornings we define what is the target for the coming week, we discuss and define every small step and task that needs to be done, and then get going. For us it works best with a big poster or a wall with 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). If you are a small team or only yourself 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. 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.

Let us know -- how do you measure your progress? Is there any tips or tricks you can share?

Remember -- together we are a well of knowledge!