When you’re working for yourself, at times it can be incredibly hard to see progress and success, and it can feel like there are often large gaps between milestones and moments of celebration, like winning a new client or delivering a project.
All too often in society, especially at work, it’s the large goals, the major successes, the remarkable which are remarked upon - but as we know, reaching any stage in any project takes a hundred smaller steps, and being more aware of the smaller successes, the little wins, is an important part of not only feeling like we’re making progress, but also taking care of our own mental health and even helps us to stay motivated to do more.
Research by Teresa Amabile from Harvard Business School, identified The Progress Principle - “of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform”.
There’s tangible benefit in forming a habit of reflecting upon the day, and identifying what those small steps of progress made today are, writing it down, and giving yourself permission to recognise the effort spent.
Whether it be a diary or journal, a message posted in slack with your team, a WhatsApp, a tweet, or even just saying it out loud - recognising a little win for the day is hugely valuable.
For the self-employed, the benefits go beyond just about progress though, for a number of additional reasons:
Celebrating with a team who get it
Working for yourself can isolating and even with a great support network in place, it can often feel like there’s no-one else to celebrate the small things with, especially if family and friends might not understand why you’re super excited by something like getting paid on-time, submitting a tax return early or being able to take a lunch break. Getting into a habit of not only capturing those little wins, but also sharing them within a community of other independent workers helps you recognise that those mini milestones or markers of good things really do matter - rather than feeling flat if they fall upon deaf ears.
"I really love seeing other people's because I love cheering them on and getting a 'little win' insight into their day.” — Lynda T.
Recognising work isn’t always output
All too often, the self-employed are working within a little bubble - whether that be working from home or working to their own schedule, and there are no shortage of tasks which might not create any tangible client facing outputs, but nevertheless are important work done - getting invoices done, scanning those receipts, talking a break from the screen, spending some time reading around an idea, meeting up with a network, even time engaging with others on social and community spaces. Capturing and sharing the little successes that you see as important or a part of your work which often isn’t recognised externally.
"It's so important to recognise and celebrate our achievements, including ones that don't seem that important. It's a reminder that we're moving in the right direction, even if we're only taking a tiny step at a time.” — Kate D.
Positives over Negatives
"The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” says neuroscientist Rick Hanson, after research showing our brains have a natural negativity bias to internalise negative experiences more deeply than positive ones - so counterbalancing our natural inclination to listen to negatives more than being aware of positives takes a concerted effort, and establishing a habit like reflecting and sharing positive experiences, even forcing yourself to find the positives in a day where everything seemed to go wrong, has both emotional and physiological benefits. As with all habits, whilst it might seem odd at the start, over time, it becomes a part of your routine, and builds up your resilience to dealing with stress and negative feedback.
Feast, famine and motivation
If there’s one truth about self-employment, it’s that there often can be very little regularity or consistency with levels of work, and during the quiet times, it can feel like you’re doing absolutely nothing - where in reality that’s far from the truth, you’ll be building up a pipeline of new business, working on your website, learning new skills, starting that personal project you’ve been putting off, or even importantly taking some time to rest and recuperate ahead of those times where there will be too much work. Spotting the small steps of progress forwards, even if there’s no paid work right now, can help to keep you motivated until the next project comes along, and provides you with a list of things you can talk about with others when they ask what you’ve been up to.
"For me, sharing my little wins has been huge for building my confidence. Because the reality is you are learning and developing all the time - the trick is noticing.” — Stephanie M S
Boundary setting after doing “enough”.
Whilst perhaps not the most obvious of benefits, listing the things you’ve achieved in a day, helps you also put the laptop down at the end of the day. Finding something that you’re giving yourself permission to say “Yes, I did do something today, and it was great” helps you to finish the day without that feeling of “I didn’t get anything done”.
Compiling your Annual Report
A really helpful additional benefit of regularly capturing and sharing your little wins is how it helps you populate your annual report - a list of all of the things you’ve done in the year, which you can share with your clients, or just reflect upon - creating a little document or book of all of your successes. Without keeping a record of the things you achieved, both large and small, it’s so easy to forget how far you’ve come, and how much you’ve grown as an individual, and as a professional.
I was thinking today how the #littlewins channel gives me such a boost. Not only am I happy for my counterparts for doing a great job on something, but it also inspires me to be better. -- Laura H
Within Leapers, we have a dedicated #littlewins channel, where anyone can post their own little wins, and all of us in the community celebrate those small steps of progress - and we’ll start asking our twitter followers what their little wins are each Wednesday too.
No matter how or where you capture and share yours, make little wins part of your strategy to work well when self-employed.