Late last summer, in an attempt to increase my productivity, I bought a day planner and created my own customized inserts for it. I’d been making lists for a while, and while they did help me keep on track, I always felt like it was hard to keep the lists themselves organized. It was easy to lose them and hard to compare them, and since keeping them for reference made a lot of paper clutter–something I hate–I just didn’t. I spent a lot of time testing and comparing productivity apps, hoping my phone could help me keep notes and lists and calendars digitally, but nothing did what I wanted. Nothing could beat the good old fashioned paper planner, so that was the route I took.
It wasn’t just about organization, though. It was about being able to keep a visible log of effort, track the time I spent doing different things, learn where to cut corners and determine what efforts produced the best results. I’m big on the idea of work smarter, not harder, so cutting out wasted time to make room for better things and keeping myself on task was important. And more importantly, I wanted to be able to see progress as I crept toward my goals.
The old saying about how a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step was heavy on my mind when I purchased my planner. It’s hard to track a journey’s progress when it’s a metaphorical journey and not an actual trip, partly because we never know how long it will take to reach our destination. I know where I’m headed, but there’s no clear path, and everyone who sets out on a quest to publish their work ends up following a different road. I decided to take my own journey; not of a thousand miles, but a thousand days. And not necessarily expecting publication at the end, but to create my own landmarks and see just how far that stretch of time will get me.
The first of April marked the first quarter of my trip: 250 days since I started tracking my progress in a section of my planner. In that time, I’ve filled two and a half pages with accomplishments. I don’t have a clear rule for what goes in there, just anything that I’m particularly proud of when it’s done, or something that’s been on the to-do list for a while. Early on, as I started making time to draw again, completing a major art piece found its way onto the list. It might seem small, but that achievement is rubbing elbows with lines describing completed major household repairs, completion of a novel and novelette, and learning new skills.
If you ask me where I’m going, though, I couldn’t really tell you. I’m one third of the way done with my current novel project, but I’ve outlined several upcoming projects and have them ready to tackle when this one is done. I’m not sure if I’ll make progress on my journey toward publication on this trip of a thousand days, but at least now, I can see my progress, and face a reminder every morning that all I have to do is take one day at a time to watch my life change–hopefully for the better.