Tracking my progress, step by step

I’ve had some questions from folks about how to use the log pages I created. Here’s how I do it, with some sample info filled in the way I fill it in. I created four different forms, filled out with sample details, like I do. You’re welcome to use these as templates for your own self-therapy/rehab.

Again, the way you do this — if you do it at all — is totally up to you. But this is how I do it:

  1. I start out the day, recording how much sleep I got, and listing the things I want to get done, as well as when I want to do them — as shown in the attached Morning Log Sample. A lot of times, I’ll list out things I plan to do, the night before — e.g., when I intend to get up and go through my morning routine, etc. I tend to write down even the smallest activities, if they are significant. I list things like the steps of my morning routine and standard-issue activities which are the bread-and-butter of my daily ritual, no matter how “basic” get included, if they are important for me.
  2. As my day progresses, I keep track of what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it. Like in the attached Noontime Log Sample. It might seem like a lot of work, but really, when you’re actively managing your time and you must keep to a schedule, it’s not optional. And when you incorporate it into your daily life, it’s really not that much effort.
  3. Later in the day, I’ll fill in more information, like in the attached Afternoon Log Sample. Keep in mind that this day’s info is a Sunday — a light day for me. If it were a weekday, I would have a lot more detail and a lot more stuff listed to do.
  4. At the end of the day, I’ll fill in my daily journal, like in the attached Evening Log Sample. I use a highlighter to mark the things I’ve gotten right, and the things I messed up. It’s important for me to distinguish between the things that turned out differently because I messed up (shown in red) and the things that turned out differently just because priorities changed or I did things a little differently (shown in orange). I also do my “360 feedback” journaling. I don’t write a whole lot, but I do spend some time examining my day and thinking about what went right and what went wrong. I really try to focus on what I did right, since there are days when those experiences are rare, and I need as much positive reinforcement as I can get. But I also really think about the things that went wrong, keeping in mind what I will do differently next time.

Again, it might seem like a lot of work, but when you incorporate this practice into your daily routine, it becomes a way of life.

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” someone once said.

That sounds depressing, so I prefer to say, “An unexamined life leads to much more difficult living.”

Truly, the price of taking the time to examine my activities and follow up on them is well worth the value I receive in return. It’s when I don’t do my daily tracking and logging and self-assessments, that I get into trouble.

Oh, one last thing — if I have a long series of unfinished tasks and things I messed up, over and over and over again over the course of days and weeks, I pay special attention to that and make a priority of learning about it. Over the extended term, I look at my log pages and I watch for patterns. If I see that I am failing regularly to get certain things done, I explore that and then do research on it. And if I look long and hard enough and am focused enough on it, I can often find info that helps me deal with the issues, and overcome them.

For example, I have a fairly long list of action items I am responsible for following through with at work, but I haven’t been able to start a number of them, for lack of motivation (and difficulty with initiation).  So, I did some research on motivation and initiation problems, and I learned that I may have issues with my cingulate gyrus, so I’m paying more attention to my initiatory abilities and doing some exercises to improve how that part of my brain is engaged.

It can be a bit daunting to do this every single day — and the stack of papers I’ve got showing what all I’ve tracked is a little overwhelming. But unless I track myself and take a look at what I’m doing on a regular basis, I don’t have the chance to do a course correction, and can I end up stuck in a bad groove that just drags me down.

So, I track myself. And it helps.

It might just help you, too.

But today was a really, really good day

See? Active management of my “new brain” works… I can hardly believe the difference between yesterday and today. Like day and night – or night and day, respectively speaking.

Yesterday, I was all over the place, wafting about on every wind that came along, getting “blown off course” by the little molehills that turned into mountains, losing track of my work and my progress, and ending up the day just exhausted, with precious little to show for my efforts, other than aggravation and rabid self-criticism.

Today I did things completely differently.

I set my intention to take the train into the city today, so I could have some time to plan and get clear on what I needed to do. I was running a little late, though, and since I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make the train on time, I made a Plan B for how I would drive in, if I just missed it or didn’t get to the station in time. There are three different ways I can drive to the city to work, and one of those routes is not far from the turn-off for the commuter rail stop. I’m lucky, that way — even if I miss the train, I can turn around and get back on one of the main routes.

I wasn’t sure I’d make the train, but I decided a few miles down the road that I was not going to stress over it. If I made it, I made it, and I would be glad. But I was not going to get worked up over it — especially since it was raining and traffic was very heavy. I kept a level head and took my time. And wonder of wonders, I actually made it to the train with three minutes to spare.

On the train, I took time to read the Give Back Orlando material and get my head on about tracking my progress. I also took time to plan my day. I had some things I wanted to read for work, but I didn’t get to them. But again, I didn’t stress over it.  I just rolled with the changes. It felt so good, to not have to drive the 90 minutes into town… I was just glad to be able to sit and read and relax.

So, my pacing was pretty good today. Relaxed and deliberate and measured. Well-managed, if I say so myself. I also took care of my physical health. I made sure that I had plenty for breakfast. I only had a small cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal before I left the house (my cat had a better breakfast than me), but when I got to the office, I ran out to a breakfast place and got myself a little mini-quiche — eggs and pastry and vegetables. I don’t care if quiche is “girly” fare. I was hungry, and I needed something more than cereal to tide me over. And I had some orange juice, too. Not the bottled stuff — the real fresh-squeezed stuff. Tasty.

When I got to my desk, I took my time setting up, and I did not start in on any of my tasks, until I understood exactly what needed to be done, and by when, why, and how I was going to do each one. Where there were gaps, I figured out how I would fill in those blanks — whom I would talk to, what info I needed to ask about. I looked at my notes from yesterday, organized my notes for today, and I prioritized all of my tasks. I have a lot of tasks each day – I have a busy job and a full schedule. And I’m on deadline on a really critical job. So, I can’t afford to monkey around.

Keeping a level head, I took my uncooperative little brain in hand, today, and I followed its shenanigans very closely. I wrote down everything I was responsible for, ahead of time, and when my brain started to balk at how much I had to get done, I kept an even keel and broke down the larger tasks into smaller ones and checked them off as I went. I didn’t move on to the next step, until I checked the results of the step I had just completed. It was painstaking and slow going, but it was very efficient.

I also tracked when I was having a “head-injured moment” and I put a big “HiM” in the margin of my personal notebook beside my notes about it —  and I circled it, so I can look back on it later. And I marked the incidents with a highlighter that’s in a color that I really dislike, so I’m sure to notice those moments, when I look back on them

There were some times when I got turned around and snappy with folks I work with. I felt bad about it afterwards, but fortunately, I work with good people who are also under pressure and have been known to snap, themselves, so they cut me some slack. I wrote down each time I started to get overwhelmed and I highlighted it in that nasty color, and I made mental notes about what to do better next time.

Just writing it down made me feel better. And seeing that I had a plan for how to handle things next time also really helped. It’s funny – I used to be so opposed to writing things down and keeping notes. I knew in the back of my mind that it was a good thing to do, and I wanted to, but I could never get my act together. Impulse control and initiation issues. Seriously. But today, I was so upset with myself about how yesterday went, I had no other choice. I had to actively manage myself, and so I did.

I also took some time for myself to unwind and just decompress. I knew that I was supposed to meet with someone at 1:00, but I walked out of the building at 12:30, and I took my time going back. The person I was meeting with has a very fluid schedule, and they’d brushed me off from the 11:00 meeting we’d had scheduled, so I just decided to take time for myself. I went for a long walk on this beautiful sunny day, not worrying about the timing, but doing the long walk around a bunch of blocks, and making my way eventually to a deli to get a sandwich. I didn’t have the leafy green salad I was thinking of getting — the lettuce was just about gone. I had a roast beef sandwich with some lettuce in it, and some chips. Just enough to tide me over for the rest of the afternoon.

I really felt better, too, not having a huge lunch. Some days, I get Chinese food, and they give you so much food, it sits like a big lump in my stomach all afternoon. I know I don’t have to eat it all, but perhaps it’s a perseverative quality of mine, that I compulsively finish my food. Today, I ate relatively light, but I did eat enough to not be hungry anymore. Somehow, I think the protein at breakfast and lunch was a help to me. Some days, I just can’t stop feeling hungry. Could be a protein thing.

Another thing I did right was, I drank plenty of water. I have a pitcher I keep at my desk, and today I actually used it. And I didn’t drink three big cups of coffee. I had a small cup with breakfast, and then another medium-sized cup around 2-3 p.m. I had been getting in the habit of having 3-4 mugs a day, which is not good. I have been meaning to cut down – especially since I’ve been having so much trouble sleeping. Today, I was able to make progress. I will probably never completely get rid of coffee, but I can at least cut down. And not drink any after 4 p.m., at the latest.

Towards the end of my workday, I took a look at my list, and I realized I had actually made progress. I’d accomplished a lot almost all — of the things I have to get done. When my boss stopped by to chat and I told them about another item I have on my to-do list to finish out one of my jobs, they were so happy. They told me they are really glad I’m working with the group. I said, “So am I,” as I was running for the train. All in all, a good way to end a good day.

So there it is. The difference for me between a good day and a not-so-good day can be something as simple as taking notes and paying attention to what I’m doing, from moment to moment. Mindfulness and attention and taking my time. Just being with the things I’m working on — focusing on them, giving them their due. Miraculously — and I never expect this — the more slowly and carefully I go, the quicker things get done.

I’m a happy camper, tonight. And I hope to repeat the performance tomorrow.


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