Recording Success

I love books on writing.

I used to love them because I wrote. Now that I don’t really write anymore, I love them because the advice on writing is often excellent life advice.

Take Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity, for example. This book talks about the importance of being kind to yourself when working on projects that take a Very Long Time. She iterates and reiterates the value of not competing. Not with other people and not with yourself. Looking over someone else’s shoulder (or the shoulder of your past or future self) only leads to second guessing and believing you’re Doing It Wrong, when in reality there is no wrong way to go about it–there’s only the way that works the best for you for this particular set of circumstances in this particular moment in time.

She talks about slowing down, not giving up when things get hard, and knowing when to make the conscious decision to give up when something’s really not working.

She talks about ships logs and process journals. She talks about having someone in your life who calls you out on your bullshit and reminds you what the journey toward success always looks like for you when you stop believing in your ability to move forward and wouldn’t it be better to give up and move on to something else?

Most valuable to me, however, is what she has to say about paying attention to success.

Today’s Intended Successes

Since reading DeSalvo’s book, I have started each day by writing down three or fewer intended successes for the day as if I have already completed them. DeSalvo got the idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (a book I read years ago and, quite frankly, don’t really remember).

Having a concrete idea of what will constitute success at the end of the day helps me feel good at the end of each day regardless of what, outside of those metrics, I have or haven’t gotten done. It gives me something to focus on when days are difficult, and a jumping off point on days that are productive.

Examples of daily intended successes include:

  • Enjoyed a leisurely, stress-free interview lunch.*
  • Read to my heart’s content after work.
  • Went to the Japanese grocery store after volunteer work and got delicious sake and curry roux.

*I was one of a few people doing the interview. The last time we hosted a lunch interview at the same restaurant, I was distracted the entire time because I only given myself an hour, and I really should have given myself at least 90 minutes.

I’ve also started setting weekly intended successes and, when September rolls around, I’ll set monthly intended successes as well.

What was successful today? Why?

At the end of each day, I’ve started asking myself, “What was successful today? Why?” I write down both the question and the answer.

An example from the day I set out to enjoy a leisurely, stress-free interview lunch:

What was successful today? Why?
Lunch worked out really well. It was relaxing, nearly completely stress-free for me, and leisurely. I didn’t think about the time because I planned ahead and made sure I would have 90 minutes instead of 60. Lunch took around 75.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to look back and see a pattern. Or at least over time I’ll start to become more aware of what, in my life, makes me feel successful so I can do more of those things.


Rocks, Pebbles, Sand, Water

You may have heard that one story in which a teacher holds up a glass jar, fills it up with rocks, and asks her class if the glass is full. The students all agree, “Yes, it is,” until the teacher adds pebbles, which fall into the gaps between the rocks.

The teacher asks again, “Is the glass full?”

“Yes,” the students say. “Now the glass is full.”

So the teacher takes some sand and adds it to the glass. “How about now?”

Again, the answer is yes.

In a final plot twist, the teacher adds water to the glass. As she does, she likens the container to the amount of time we have each day and the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water to the activities we fill our days with. We are reminded that we need to stay aware of what’s most important to us and make a conscious decision to dedicate the majority of our resources (time, energy, money) to those things (as opposed to spending those same resources on the things we care much less about instead).

I’ve come across this story a few times in my life, and today it finally clicked for me. I drew a mind map of my rocks and pebbles so I would have a better idea of what to focus on:

I checked the results against the tracker I made at the beginning of August and realized just how many resources I’ve been pouring into things that, quite frankly, don’t matter much to me. So, I reinvented my tracker using the results of my mind map as a guide:

The first block on the audit side is to do with community, the second with self care, and the third with security. (“Wash Hair” and “Face Mask” don’t have to do with anything, really. I’m just curious to know how often I do these things.)

On the right side of the page, I have a list of feelings.

It will be interesting to see if there is any correlation between how many of the rock items I make time for and how I feel each day. I’m hoping to find I feel consistently better when I’ve made room for at least some of the items on the left side of the page, but there are variables I haven’t included–like work, for example, which is only tangentially related to my security rock–that I don’t have quite so much control over and that will likely have a pretty large impact on my mood throughout the day.