Whether you’re planning out your career or taking a project from start to finish, you’ll reach your goals faster if you track progress.
Biologically, human beings are hardwired to derive satisfaction from finishing tasks. Progress-tracking shows you exactly what you’ve accomplished so far, which triggers your reward center and gives you the additional motivation to continue. Beyond that, it presents an accurate picture of where you are so that you’ll know how to proceed. Even with teams, it boosts focus and morale, such that it’s already a widely implemented practice in most companies and institutions.
The Power of Visual Feedback
How do you track progress, though, and does it even matter?
Not all methods are equally effective. What comes to mind first for most people is to create lists or spreadsheets for tasks. But if you’ve ever tried to-do lists, you’ve probably observed that these can quickly become very complicated, and you may fail to notice some items as more tasks and obligations come rushing in. When they’re already too long, you won’t even want to look at them anymore!
As Harvard Business Review points out, the key is to throw in some visuals. From wall calendars to apps showing brightly colored graphs, visual feedback does a better job of condensing information rather than text alone, and it’s more fun to look at, too. A classic example would be health clubs or gyms, where large mirrors on the walls act as a visual check so you can see if you’re making the correct motions.
Likewise, by using visual feedback professionally, you can tell at a glance what’s happening and what needs to be improved. It’s easy and convenient, and the important metrics are always visible.
Tools for Visualizing Progress
Here are four popular ways for you to track your project progress and results:
Tracking progress with a calendar is extremely intuitive and natural. Although it offers a lot of flexibility so you can adapt it to your needs, people generally write down events, tasks, and deliverables under the corresponding deadline or date to be performed. Details such as assigned team members can also be indicated. For wall calendars, you can even do some sticker printing such as simple red circles for extremely urgent tasks or icons for each activity type. These calendars have the advantage of being large and effortlessly visible. Alternatively, there are also online tools such as Google Calendar, which can send you notifications to remind you about deadlines.
A Gantt chart is essentially a timeline organized into a horizontal bar chart. It depicts when tasks should be accomplished, including the start and end dates, as well as who’s assigned to each task. Linear timelines can be confusing because tasks tend to overlap and aren’t necessarily done one after the other, but Gantt charts solve this problem by showing even the dependencies between tasks. Often, Activity A will only be doable once Activity B is finished, and you’ll be able to see all of these task dynamics right away in a Gantt chart. The analog way is to draw this on paper or use colored blocks, but you can also turn to specific software such as Liquid Planner, TeamGantt, and Bitrix24.
Chances are, you’ve experienced a variation of this before. The task board is among the most common methods out there, and it’s largely based on the Kanban system, which was originally created to make manufacturing more efficient. Each task is represented by a card, and cards are placed into columns depending on which state or phase they’re in. Columns can be “Backlog,” “Current,” and “Done.” As you progress with a task, you transfer it into another column. Visual signals like stickers and color coding can help differentiate cards further. Physical boards often consist of whiteboards with sticky notes, while on the digital side, you have Trello, MeisterTask , LeanKit, and other online apps.
Think of the bullet journal as a complete planning, scheduling, and tracking system in a notebook. Ideal for individuals looking to be more productive, a bullet journal goes back to the basics of writing on paper rather than relying on too many apps. The standard sections for it consist of an index of pages, daily and monthly logs, and long-term goals. It encourages conciseness through signals such as X for completed tasks or -> for tasks migrated to the next day, but there’s also ample room for creativity and personal expression since both the structure and design are up to you.
With psychology showing support for visualizing and people reporting positive experiences, these systems have become a habit for many and even an essential part of their working life. We can’t specify which is the best because that depends on what works for you or your team. You can also try an additional good way to raise a team spirit which is providing your co-workers and teammates with custom designed t-shirts. In any case, all of these systems are convenient and free or low-cost to try, so you can get started right away and move closer to your goals day after day.