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Goal-Tracking Tools

After Goal-Setting Comes Goal-Tracking
  -- By Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer
Quick, what’s the difference between a dream and a goal?

Any goal-setting guru will tell you that goals are dreams that you write down and track. Why? By writing down your goals, you're creating a "to do" list for your life, which is a powerful way to commit to achieving your dreams. Tracking your progress heightens the commitment, helping you see what’s important, identify pitfalls, find trends, and celebrate successes. You wouldn’t take a class or play a sport without measuring success in some way, whether by grades or keeping score, so why not invest similarly in your own life?

Tracking your goals shouldn’t be hard if you’ve defined them clearly and broken them into manageable tasks. If you haven’t done this, you’ll find out pretty quickly when you start to monitor your progress. Give yourself the freedom to pick the tool—or combination of tools—that works for you. Here are some creative ways to track your progress:

Habit-Enhancing Charts
Based on the concept that people establish habits after 21 consecutive days, you can design your own chart to help you mark daily progress. Include four brief headings: the habit you want to cultivate, your start date, your goal date, and the date you achieved it. Then include 21 slots, calendar-style, that you can mark off daily as you meet the goal. If you miss one day, start a new trial period. Keep your charts in your date book, on your desk, or as a bookmark.

Buy or Create a Goal Calendar
These can be large enough to hang or small enough to carry with you. Mark the daily progress you make towards your goals, and briefly note problems, challenges, and successes that you experience. You can also chart higher-level goals on a monthly, quarterly, or even yearly basis. Got kids? Get them involved by letting them decorate, post accomplishment stickers, and write encouraging notes. They’ll feel important in your life and love it!

Email Your Own Encouragement
Send yourself a daily email reviewing how you did yesterday and what you plan to do today. You can do this at the end of each day or even at the beginning of your day. Just seeing the current email in your inbox—or even glancing over it once or twice a day—is a powerful reminder that you want to accomplish something worthwhile. Filing or printing your daily email will give you a complete record of how you’ve done, and may point out areas for improvement.

Journal
Keeping a daily journal of your progress is a great way to review your challenges and successes. Include how you do and how you feel in regards to your progress. And remember, if this is your main tracking tool, you must do it every day for it to be effective. If you're short on time, develop your own shorthand system or template to save time, such as rating how you did on a scale of 1 to 5.

Report to a Buddy Daily or Weekly
Find a friend you can talk with briefly—online or by phone—to help track your progress in tackling your goals. Make sure you choose a positive person who’s willing to help and encourage. Better yet, find someone who has goals of their own and can use your input as they track their progress.

Your Current Planner or Agenda
Chances are that if you have a planner or daily agenda, you can use it to keep track of your progress toward goals. You can even set aside the same spot on each daily page to make notes, check off accomplishments, and outline next steps.

These are just a few ideas to help you start tracking your goals and progress. Remember that you can combine several of the tools (a daily calendar, for instance, summarized with a more-detailed, weekly journal entry). Just as you wouldn’t take a long trip without planning your route and watching the road signs, you shouldn’t expect to accomplish long-term goals without planning your journey and monitoring your progress. Create a roadmap to your success by writing down your goals—then track them to determine whether you’re chugging along, need to refuel, or should revise your route.