Work Smarter//

How to Use Small Wins to Power Your Productivity

Celebrating small wins deliver quick motivation boosts, triggering a snowball effect

By Lightspring/Shutterstock
By Lightspring/Shutterstock

Breaking big challenges down into chunks isn’t original advice — it’s one of the best ways to get high-value work done.

It’s easy to imagine what we want in life. Taking actionable steps, on the other hand, is the hard part. But breaking a big goal into manageable tasks makes any goal achievable.

Achieving those tasks (no matter how small) and acknowledging them has a big impact on your mood, energy and productivity — it’s one the most powerful ways to feel progress.

Acknowledging your small wins is important because setbacks can ruin a workday. This, in part, is because we are more likely to focus on losses rather than gains. Given our brain’s negativity bias, you may find yourself focusing too much on failures.

Drawing on the work of organizational theorist and psychologist Karl Weick, Mehrnaz Bassiri, an educator says, “Small wins have transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favour another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins leads to larger and greater accomplishments.”

Always know what’s done, what’s getting done, and what can’t be completed (and why). It’s one of the best ways to prepare for the next working day. It can also decrease stress and encourage better work habits.

Small successes during the day are of huge importance in improving your inner-work life, which in turn lead to higher productivity. Progress can increase motivation, boost performance and improve your ability to acquire and retain new skills.

Small wins are massive motivators — but we rarely recognize them

In their book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, based on a mountain of evidence (diary entries from 238 people at seven companies — 12,000 person-days of data on moods and activities at work), the authors Teresa and Steven Kramer argues that forward momentum, no matter how small, creates the best inner work lives.

“Our research inside companies revealed that the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress — even small wins.”

They found out that a sense of incremental progress is more important to happiness than either a grand mission or financial incentives. Small wins “had a surprisingly strong positive effect, and small losses a surprisingly strong negative one.”

By focusing on daily victories, you reinforce your actions and thoughts, thus making it likely you’ll have more small wins on subsequent days.

Small wins to notice as you go through your day can include the time you take to exercise or meditate in the morning, reading a chapter or two of your favourite book before work, feeling compassion for yourself when you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, taking a break when you get tired, instead of pushing yourself in an unhealthy way.

“Achievement tracking can be just as powerful in our personal lives. When we’re going through hard times we’re often coached to imagine how we’d speak kindly to a friend in a similar situation, but it’s easy to forget that same mindset also works for embracing praise, Dr Neff said. Depending on the person, tasks like eating a healthy meal, showering or reaching out to a friend can be worth listing as accomplishments,” writes Micaela Marini Higgs of New York Times.

You can also take time to notice the moments you decide to be proactive about your tasks instead of being reactive to the noise around you, persist with a task, even when you are distracted, get your most important things (MIT’s) checked off your list and dozens of other things you choose to do that advance your life and career goals.

There is an infinite number of things you might feel good about on a given day. The challenge, on a personal level, is remembering to notice the smaller things you’ve achieved every day.

As author Jocelyn K. Glei notes, “Most of us make advances small and large every single day, but we fail to notice them because we lack a method for acknowledging our progress. This is a huge loss.”

Keeping a “done” list, as well as a to-do list, is a remarkable way to notice your small wins. Taking note helps us reflect on our days and keep track of all those little achievements that normally go unnoticed.

“It helps us to detect and celebrate our small wins even on those frustrating days that we don’t think we got a lot done. Not only that, but it also helps us to work through difficulties and find weak areas that we need to work on,” says Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School professor.

Meg Selig, Counselor, and the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success, recommends we use self-talk to notice your small victories:

When you notice a little victory, you could give yourself an inner complement, using self-talk like this:

  • “Hey, I handled that pretty well!”
  • “Good decision!”
  • “Way to go! You kept your cool under pressure!”

“If you can’t seem to find successes in your day, you may be searching too hard for extraordinary achievements. Remember the small wins!” says Meg.

Building self-confidence, boosting your mood, and energy and productivity is a process, not an event. Celebrate progress and smart setbacks. Learn from them — extract failure value. Take a moment every day to acknowledge small steps forward and even recognize failures, when the effort was a good one.

Originally published on Medium.

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