Trusting the process.

I used to be a big believer in setting SMART goals—the specific, measurable, actionable kind. (e.g., decrease my mile time from 9:30 to 9:10 by July 1, 2016.)

But a few years ago I made a startling discovery. After that I mostly quit making SMART goals, and instead began tracking my participation in certain areas—health, fitness, writing, reading. I committed to take certain steps every day, with zero regard for the results.

I found that when I began simply tracking these activities—holding myself accountable to doing these small and medium tasks everyday—the results took care of themselves. And I enjoyed the process so much more.

Now when I set goals, I focus on the process (which I can control), not the outcome (which I can’t).

This has been on my mind lately because one of my big-picture goals for 2016—or rather, one of the things I’m NOT doing this year—is to NOT blow off the things I know are good for me.

My body has been creaky and complainy lately (long story) and the list of things I know are good for me has gotten pretty long. Get my daily 10,000 steps. Do my stretches. Eat my veggies. Take my vitamins. Drink my supplement. Take a reading break. Turn the lights out at 10:00 p.m. And more.

These punch list items aren’t arduous or complicated, but there are a lot of them—too many for me to easily keep track of—and I’ve been continually running through a long checklist in my head, making sure I’m not forgetting anything, making sure I’m getting it done. If they were deeply ingrained habits, this would be a cinch—but they’re not, not yet.

The self-care process is taking up a lot of mental space (and I know I’m vulnerable to decision fatigue).

So here’s what I’m doing: I’m revisiting the method that worked so well for me a few years ago. I reloaded the Commit app on my phone, and plugged in all the tiny little tasks I need to do every day, and told the app when to remind me to do them. (This app is a nice combination of my home-cooked productivity tracker and Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, plus push notifications and a nifty chart that shows you how long your successful streak is.)

Have I accomplished anything yet? Not really. I have nothing to show for my efforts except a little less storage space on my phone.

And yet I finally feel like I’m ready to do this thing that’s so important to me this year: To NOT blow off my health, just because I’m not paying attention.

How do YOU stay on top of the things that are too small to hit your to-do list put too important to forget? 

P.S. Not an app person? Try this analog tracker instead.


Leave A Comment
  1. I didn’t know there was such an app. I stick with a good old fashioned checklist on paper, but that sounds awesome because the notifications remind you. I’m trying to prioritize my health as well. It’s the first thing that gets pushed to the side when there’s other things to do. Not good!

  2. Thank you for this post! I like the idea of focusing on participation! I will explore the app. I think it would help me take care of myself but also to stay mindful of my kids’ school tasks that sometimes slide (practice math facts and sight words, for one). The idea of being able to look at streaks in certain areas is really appealing.

      • Dawn says:

        I agree with Carrie about tracking in a bullet journal. My monthly tracker page is super helpful.(BTW, Anne–a reference by you to bullet journalling meant I followed all kinds of rabbit trails to learn about it–and now I have had a bullet journal for about five months and I LOVE it. Did you ever try one? There’s really nothing to lose and potentially tons to gain!)

  3. Katia says:

    Thank you for sharing that analog tracker! I tend to take good care of my health but fall off track from time to time when I consume too much sugar or caffeine, or don’t go to sleep at a good time. I need to create better habits and stop pretending to be a moderator.

  4. Elaine says:

    I do something a little different, neither an app nor a “to do” list. I try to live with a Rule of Life, modeled after the Benedictine idea of striving to life balance. Everyone’s Rule (the word actually coming from the Latin should be read “guidepost”, not so rigid an idea as “rule” but more like a sign to keep you on the path. Everyone’s Rule might look different but mine incorporates the following: health (covering exercise and diet), learning, spirituality, fun and work. It has worked for me for twenty years and gives me a touchstone–when I’m feeling out of whack, I simply do a quick assessment.

  5. Mary Hunt says:

    At the first of the year, literally January 1, I was in a walk in clinic for a prolonged sinus infection. Being diabetic, the nurse asked about all the numbers a diabetic is suppose to keep up with. I was embarrassed that I could not answer any of her questions. So, then I decided to take care of myself and keep up with what I am suppose to monitor. I have a Diabeties app that I can record my water intake, glucose reading, meds, carbs and exercise. Then I set “appointments” on my ical and reminders when to test my blood sugar. So far this is working for me. All my health goals are wrapped in keeping these numbers in line, if I do that other things will fall into place. One month in…

  6. beth says:

    I use a Field Notes grid paper notebook. I pick about 5 small things a month and list at the top of the page. I then write each day of the month going vertically down the page. I check off a box each day that I make the goal in each area. It’s small but keeps me accoutnable. Plus, its paper. I just don’t do apps. (Probably because I don’t have a smartphone).

  7. Annie says:

    So, I’ve been reading your words for well over a year (or two?) now and finally have gained the confidence to comment. Thank you for this – you have so written what I grapple with. I love goals but am in the midst of parenting a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old so any outcome is kind of dependent on them. Scary! I’m learning to embrace the process, to keep my hands and mind open, and to acknowledge what I’m learning in this season will produce something more tangible later. (Or not. And that’s ok, too.)

  8. Corby says:

    I must check out the app. As I gain a year in age every year I seem to lose a little more memory, so I need something to keep me on task. The goals I set are challenges, like run a 10k and climb a rock wall. No specifics, just the challenges. At the end of the year I love looking back and seeing what new things I’ve dine.

  9. Alyssa says:

    I saw an idea I liked where you made a grid chart of your goal activities for the week. A “perfect week” had, let’s say, 130 checked boxes. But the goal was to check at least 100 boxes. This really spoke to me as a perfectionist. If I missed exercise one day, I could still check the boxes for vitamins, salad and drinking water. I think this would really help those of us who are kind of all or nothing perfectionists. Every little choice is still helpful and they add up!

  10. Cassie says:

    It goes in the planner! My planner has a weekly goal section which is awesome for every day things that I don’t want to write down every day or if I want to do it 4 times a week etc.

  11. Bri says:

    I have a checklist in Evernote called “dailies” with all the little things that I want to do each day that aren’t quite habits yet. I just reuse the same list and uncheck everything to start each day fresh. If/when something becomes a solid habit, I take it off the list. I’ll have to check out this app, though. I like that I could see how long I’ve kept something up!

  12. Holly says:

    I Bullet Journal. I just started in January and it has changed my life. There are many schools of thought, but the beauty of the process is that you make it work for you. You can track anything you like from kids to meals to dog-grooming appointments to budget expenditures for your small business. I use it as my “Year of Me” book. Books I want to read. Quotes that feed my soul. Good things I need to do each month (send Birthday cards, check in on a friend, get a manicure!) and my daily habit tracker. For daily habits I use a simple grid of the things I need to do – and it’s a visual reminder of what I’ve done. That and reviewing my day, bullet style, instead of lengthy journaling has kept me coming back for more. It’s phenomenal!

  13. Debra says:

    I love this. At the start of 2015, I decided I would have a goal to follow and complete a 12 week workout/nutrition plan, instead of focusing on weight loss. Well, 2015 turned out to be my most successful year for my health and fitness.
    I don’t have a smart phone, so I’ll have to check out your other tracking method.

  14. Grace says:

    This sounds great! There are so many things like doing affirmations in the morning, gratitude at night, or meditation during the day that I forget to do. I’ve tried setting alarms on my phone, but then I somehow forget to do that each day. It’s silly the things I can’t remember, but it happens. The commit app sounds like it’ll be a good solution to my memory problems.

  15. So many of your posts resonate with me especially this one. I have so many goals and things I want to accomplish as well as taking care of my relationships and self-care. I get easily distracted so I’ve been reading a ton of books on productivity like Essentialism and ideas like Batching Tasks. In terms of daily habits one habit I’ve wanted to implement for years is meditating and it has been a struggle. There is an app called Calm which gives you reminders, allows you to set a timer as well as background noise, and has a calendar so you can see how many days straight you have meditated. So far I’ve done 4 days straight and I’m trying not to break that chain.

  16. I use the Way of Life app. It helps me keep track of the habits I’m building and whether I’ve been doing them consistently in the past week.

    Also, while I write this comment, the page keeps jumping back to the video box (ad?) under the end of your post, before the social media buttons. Just an FYI.

  17. Jennie K says:

    I love my planner. I’ve researched so many since I started using a paper planner again in July of last year. Digital lists and calendars just didn’t work for me the way writing it out on paper does. And like a couple others mentioned, I make it work for me and use it as a journal of what is happening in my life, quotes, lists, and jazz it up by using colorful markers, pens, stickers, washi tape and photos! For the weeks I want to go minimal, I can do that, too. Just the process of writing helps me work things out in my mind, remember information better, etc.

  18. Amanda says:

    As a dietitian, I highly recommend SMART goals that focus on the process, and I agree that it can be frustrating to set goals based on outcomes (a notoriously challenging one is weight loss). I started tracking habits a few years ago (I like the app Balanced) and more recently I’ve been tracking steps with a Fitbit. It’s definitely made a difference. =)

  19. Erin says:

    Can I ask what vitamins/supplement you take? I’m looking for something different than my current one and was just curious.
    I need to download an app where I can check things off. I think that would help with some of the goals that I have. I think I need to focus on the process because that is definitely where I struggle!

  20. Sara says:

    I’m curious as to what your list of “good for me things” are, if you felt comfortable sharing them. I have been able to relate to several things you have mentioned in a post here and there, and my body has been creaky and complainy lately as well. I have never been very disciplined in creating daily healthy habits, but I know that’s what I need to do. I’d love to learn from you of what you are doing to stay healthy, again if you feel comfortable with doing so.

    • Anne says:

      I mentioned a few in the post: the others boil down to eating right (I’m doing an autoimmune plan as an experiment right now which is challenging, to say the least) and stretches/exercise to combat the amount of time I’ve been spending at the computer.

  21. Shelley says:

    I am a person who thrives with routine. I need it, I crave it, and without it I easily lose focus. I have used as my mantra a quote from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
    “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

    This says it all : )

  22. Wendy says:

    I’ve been teaching in the same state for nearly 20 years. Each year, I’ve been required to set professional goals, and then in the spring, sit down with an administrator and look at how well I’ve succeeded in meeting those goals.

    When I started, I was able to set “process” goals, like “I’m going to start a book study group with my colleagues and read about race in the classroom” or “I’m going to take three classes about teaching reading in content areas.” For the past several years two things have changed drastically–I am TOLD what my goals are (or at least where our department’s focus needs to be), and they must be test-based outcome goals. I hate it!

    My goals now look like this: “100% of the 7th grade students who are in the 25th percentile or lower will increase to the 75th percentile or higher on the district’s vocabulary test.” Even if we take away the whole “100% of kids” doing anything (setting teachers up for failure right away), there is nothing in our current goals about our professional practice.

    I appreciate very much how your articulate the difference between process and outcome goals. Your method of tracking will be helpful with my “stealth” goals that I still have for myself, professionally and personally.

  23. Sarah says:

    I still don’t have an effective method for my daily have to’s. Seems everything just gets written in two columns on notebook paper: personal and business. I roll over lingering items that didn’t get done to the next days to do list the night before. To speak into the creaky body and healthy eating habits: we eat Juice Plus. It’s whole foods in a capsule. My husband and myself plus our three kids, including our 10 month take it. Better than vitamins because it is real food and it changes your cravings. Eat lots of good, crave good. Anyways, thanks for sharing your process

  24. Jodi says:

    I’ve tried so many apps, programs and printables to try and stay on top of things. I’ve come to realize that for some types of things, I just have to be a paper girl. Not just paper though, but a centralized, all in one place so I can keep track of it all type thing. I echo the Bullet Journalling people who have posted. It has been a game changer for me. Even though I never get all the things on my daily to-do list complete, I still get way more done that I would have before. It helps me stay focused and motivated. As part of that, I’ve created my own little monthly tracker for the areas I want to keep on top of on a daily basis. Ever since tracking my “reading minutes” in gradeschool, I’ve been motivated this way – visual and a little bit competitive. 🙂 Anyhow – a system that can be sustained and works is the most important thing, ultimately. Praying better health and stewardship of this life for us all. Now, if I could just go to bed at a decent time…

  25. I am doing this-this year also. I am taking care of my health but you are right remembering to do them all is exhausting. I am heavy gamer so I have been using SuperBetter to make things into a quest. It is working for me. Like I make it a quest to NOT buy junk food or Cigarettes (I quit smoking) at the store. The app is set up that if you are successful you get points. If not, you lose points. I haven’t tried the commit app tho.

  26. Kelly in CA says:

    I have found that focusing on what you can control rather than outcomes is quite freeing! I left the work force 11 yrs ago for business school and then started a family and stayed home. Now, I am looking for a job and rather than set a goal of “Get a job by March 31”, my goals are “Attend 1 networking event every 2 wks”, “Reach out to 2 new people a week” and “Apply to 5 jobs a week”.

    These are all things I can control, which is satisfying because I feel like I’m doing my best when I achieve them, even if I don’t get a job offer that week. I learned this method in “The 12 Week Year” by Brian Moran, which I highly recommend for guidance in how to move strategically toward your (or your organization’s) goals!

  27. Maria Holm says:

    I have made the same discovery that I enjoy to have a kind of “to do list” to follow like running 5 times a week at different paces and distances and (I use the Endomondo app and have a running plan). For duties at home I have written an easy plan that I try to follow. So it helps me to enjoy my home more and the things I like to do

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