Pat Katz Pat Katz




PAUSE – 11.38 – Making Progress?

REFLECTION: Over the years, I’ve developed a habit that helps me focus on what matters most. Each week, I sit down for ten minutes late Sunday or early Monday, and build my list of priorities in four areas: Work, Home&Family, Community, and Personal. This is not an exhaustive collection of calls, errands, and follow-ups. I leave those bits and pieces to an electronic calendar. It is a specific list of projects and major/minor tasks that I hope to focus on and advance over the next seven days.

Sometimes a landslide of unexpected issues come up and hijack what I’d planned. In those instances, the list from one week to another looks nearly identical. Other times, like this Monday, when I reviewed last week’s Priority List, I was amazed at how many things I’d accomplished. And, I was delighted by how good that felt.

In that instant, I was reminded in a very personal and experiential way of the powerful impact of progress.

On this point, two Harvard researchers have recently confirmed what we instinctively hold to be true. It feels good to move things forward.

In their research, Amabile and Kramer discovered that when people consistently take steps forward – even small steps – on meaningful projects, they are more creative, productive, and engaged. This, in turn, has a positive influence on their work performance.

A & K refer to this phenomenon as the progress loop. It’s a cycle that has self-reinforcing benefits. Make progress on tasks, and you feel better about yourself. Feel better about yourself, and you’re more likely to make positive progress on tasks. And so it goes.


ACTION: What does this mean for our lives at work and at home? It means that we would be well served by focusing our own attention and the attention of others on what we’ve already accomplished rather than only being preoccupied with the challenges that lie ahead.

In terms of tangible practices, feeding the progress loop looks something like this:

* Draw small wins and points of progress to the attention of others. You – and they – may be so intent on what’s left to be done that no one notices how far you’ve come.

* Begin meetings with a review of progress on tasks. It turns out the traditional ‘Old Business’ follow up item on an agenda may have an important function after all.

* Break larger projects into smaller bits, so you will notice (and celebrate) more markers of traction as a project unfolds.

* Don’t just commiserate about problems, collaborate to surface the ‘what next’ action steps. Check in, follow up, and applaud as plans are executed.

* Keep an eye out for ways you can remove roadblocks to progress and help others get back on track after a setback.

* As the week’s ‘to do’s’ turn into ‘ta-da’s’, take a moment to note the transition and pat yourself and others on the back.

Give these approaches a try and notice how they lift your spirits and boost your productivity.


QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.” – Samuel Smiles


RESOURCES OF THE WEEK: The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. Harvard Business Press. 2011.

For an overview of the key point from their book, check this online article, Amabile & Kramer’s Progress Theory – Using Small Wins To Enhance Motivation.

For a tool that to help you track progress and capture your own insights on motivation, download a copy of Amalie’s ‘My Work Day: Events, Reactions & Insights’.

If you prefer your info in video form, see Amabile on ‘The Progress Principle‘ at TedX Atlanta.


READERS WRITE: In response to last week’s message, Voila, Pause reader PH writes: “What a lovely post, with very useful reflections and excellent action items. I know for myself this notion certainly holds true. When I ground myself properly and focus on making an authentic and playful connection with the people I’m working with magic happens. When I don’t, I might still manage to do excellent work, but NOT magic.”

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