Accumulation of Progress

February 2, 2019 ยท 6 minute read

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” - Bill Gates

The above quote from Bill Gates really resonates with me because it perfectly encapsulates my many feelings about life and career: progress takes a lot of work and a lot of time, but if you put in the work, it will happen over time.

Something that really helps me realize that progress is the concept of accumulation of progress.

What does this mean?

Here's a small example: in 2018, I managed to clock in about 16,250 pushups.

That sounds like a pretty high number, right? It gets better. Between 2013 and 2018, I think I've done more than 75,000 pushups!

If that seems like a high number to you, I understand, because it seems high to me too. I hadn't really done the math until I was starting to write this post. ๐Ÿ˜…

But here's the kicker: I only managed to do so many pushups, because I start every day by doing 50 pushups right after waking up and drinking a glass of water. Seriously. (I got 75,000 over 5 years because I have been doing 50 since 2013, and sometimes I did more, sometimes I did less, and some days I missed!)

I never started the year with the aim of doing more than 15,000 pushups in a year, nor did I think I would have done as many pushups as I have in the past 5 years! My only aim for the year, is to wake up, and start my day with pushups. No more, no less.

This approach, small actions on a consistent basis, is something that works tremendously well for me in my pursuit of personal and professional growth. It creates a reliable routine, it builds those healthy habits that I love, and it helps contribute towards an accumulation of progress.

Personally speaking, there is a true level of satisfaction in being able to take a look back at the number of things you were able to do or accomplish in a year, in five years, or in ten years.

To make it work, here's a few things that I try to keep in mind when I try to measure and track progress:

  • How can this be measured? Is this activity atomic enough to be quantified, or have a summary that would give me context when looking back later?
  • How can I keep track? Do I have a calendar, or notebook, or document that I can regularly return to and add or review progress with?
  • What does this progress toward? Do I have a goal that I am working toward? Do I have an endgame that I have in mind?

I use these questions to make sure that I am working on net-positive behaviours. It's fairly easy to work on anything and everything, but having good reasons for doing so and making the progress visible make it that much easier to move forward.

I'm happy to share a few things that I do to track my accumulation of progress, as well as answers to the above questions that I posed, because it helps illustrate choices I've made, and also helps me reflect on whether I should change anything!

Morning Pushups

  • How can this be measured?
    • Pushups can be counted with atomic units!
  • How can I keep track?
    • I don't really track this at the moment, which is a huge fail on my part, as I usually wake up and it's a checkbox of completion as soon as I do my pushups. But as of writing this post, I've started punching in my pushups into a Google Spreadsheet. It's not perfect, and I would rather have it get pushed into my Apple Health tracking, but that is a solution I can figure out later!
  • What does this progress toward?
    • For me, the pushups help me keep my physical health as top of mind, as I've been trying to stay healthy and strong with the increase in my sedentary lifestyle and age. In addition, accomplishing something so early in the day, like the completion of pushups, gives me a sweet boost in attitude for the day, since I can start my day off on the right foot!

Hitting The Gym

  • How can this be measured?
    • I use several metrics for tracking my gym activity: number of workouts per week and month, amount of active and total calories burned, and quality of sleep.
  • How can I keep track?
    • My Apple Watch in tandem with Apple Health keep track of all of these numbers, and I have a sleep note in Sleep Cycle, the app I use for sleep tracking, to track the days I go to the gym to understand how my sleep quality changes on those days that include a gym session.
  • What does this progress toward?
    • Staying fit! I want to make regular exercise a staple in my life as I get older and spend less time being active. The last thing I want is to be burdened down with aches and pains on a regular basis as I get older, and this is one of the ways I am staying proactive about it.

Progress as a Programmer

  • How can this be measured?
    • I experiment heavily with how I track my progress, but I have been keeping track of new things I have learned today, and things I have accomplished today. Both are bullet notes, where each bullet is as concise of a summary as I can give, with context around what and where.
  • How can I keep track?
    • I use a single Notes entry in my Apple Notes app, but am considering moving over to a Google Spreadsheet to make it accessible anywhere.
  • What does this progress toward?
    • Tracking progress here is a bit fuzzy, but it helps me accomplish three things: it helps me realize when I am not spending enough effort towards learning new things, it lets me track the complexity of things I am learning or accomplishing, and it allows me to remember the level of contribution I would have made towards projects. All of these things are useful as a personal reminder of how far I have really come, but also helps me identify and summarize my personal or professional contributions towards projects.

Concluding Thoughts

I'm happy to share a few of the things I track in my life because I think the concept of accumulation of progress is tremendously effective in pushing me forward and allowing me to stay grounded and patient in the pursuit of growth. I am constantly experimenting with these measured activities, and trying to figure out where else I can create net-positive activities in my life, there are so many places to look!

Do you have your own methods for tracking progress? I would love to hear them!