How Tracking My Excuses Helped Me Stop Making Them

This spreadsheet system for tracking progress is deceptively simple but totally works

Leigh Stein
Forge
Published in
4 min readNov 25, 2019

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Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

InIn the spring of 2017, I was burned-out, clinically depressed, and in thousands of dollars of credit card debt. I had just resigned from the nonprofit organization I’d co-founded and I had $732 in savings. As hard as I’d worked on fundraising, my role at the nonprofit was never going to be a salaried job, and I needed to make a big change in my life. But once I quit, I had something more valuable than money: I had time.

And with that time, I started writing a novel about a burned-out female co-founder of a wellness startup.

As underemployed as I was that spring, I had endless hours to write every day. But I struggled to use those hours effectively. I was recovering from burnout at the same time I was trying to reboot my creative process. “Feel guilty for feeling so tired and unmotivated,” I wrote in a journal. “What am I supposed to do, without the daily pile of emails to answer, events to plan, meetings to take? What’s my new rhythm?”

No one was waiting for this book. Instead of being accountable to others, I was now only accountable to myself.

The ‘You Can Write a Novel’ spreadsheet

I knew that research shows we are more likely to achieve our goals if we write them down and create a system of accountability. So I made a spreadsheet called “You Can Write a Novel,” with columns for tracking words written and hours spent writing, and I started to track how I got in my own way.

In Column A, I put the date. Columns B, C, and D were for recording words written, pages written, and hours spent writing, so that I could give myself credit for whatever amount of work I was able to do that day.

In Column E, I recorded my excuses on the days I wrote nothing. This would ultimately prove to be the most important column of all of them.

For seven months, I tracked my progress. I dutifully noted how much I wrote (I averaged around 250 words a day; on my best days I wrote 750). And if I didn’t, I noted why. A lot of my excuses involved prioritizing freelance work over the unpaid labor of…

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Leigh Stein
Forge
Writer for

Author of the critically acclaimed novel SELF CARE, a satire of the wellness industry and girlboss feminism. www.leighstein.com