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Write Down Every Compliment You Get

In praise of the Good Shit board, the tool I use to track accomplishments large and small

Credit: Sitthiphong Thadakun / EyeEm/Getty Images

WWhenever I need to give my eyes a break from the blue light of my laptop, I look over to a wall full of whiteboards in my office: One for client deadlines, one for keeping track of creative projects, and one containing a running list of all my professional accomplishments for the month — the one I think of as my Good Shit board.

Some of the items on my Good Shit board for this month include an inspiring week at a writer’s workshop, a fun new assignment from a magazine I enjoy writing for, and an article pitch accepted at Forge (hi!), along with any kind words about my work, or complimentary emails from editors that I’ve received.

The Good Shit board is a lifeline on days when work feels frustrating. It’s where I go to celebrate my wins, providing a confidence boost anytime my morale takes a hit after a rejection or roadblock. At the end of each month, I type up all the contents of the Good Shit board into a Word document, save it, then erase the board and start anew.

When I became a freelancer two years ago, I got serious about tracking my Good Shit. There’s something cringeworthy about broadcasting “accomplishments” on my wall, even just to myself, so the over-the-top label helps take the braggadocious edge off. The whiteboard and the Word documents serve as reminders of everything I’ve achieved, which is especially useful when I sit down to evaluate how I’m progressing toward my goals.

And avoiding the word “accomplishment” also helps reframe what I’m proud of. For me, Good Shit isn’t just an article published, new client, or piece of positive feedback: Sometimes, simply working hard to win a new client, even if the deal doesn’t go through, can earn a spot on the Good Shit board.

It isn’t just a feel-good exercise: Research shows that small wins are powerful motivators on the path to reaching larger goals, even if they aren’t direct steps to help us get there. “Small wins do not combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal,” organizational psychologist Karl Weick explained in his 1984 paper “Small Wins.” “More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered and cohere only in the sense that they move in the same general direction.” Notes of praise from an editor at one publication, for example, won’t necessarily help me break into another, but they keep me energized and determined.

Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, there are other practical reasons to track your successes — a detailed log of your accomplishments comes in handy during performance reviews or when negotiating raises. Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, is a fan of the “kudos file”: a folder in your inbox where you stash compliments from colleagues and bosses.

“The ability to say, ‘I worked hard on a project and had team members compliment the work is really helpful,” especially when you can point to exactly what they said, Gruttadaro says.

To start tracking your own Good Shit, Gruttadaro suggests testing a few methods to see what works for you. Maybe it’s a journal, a Word document, or sticky notes around your monitor. Then, commit to a schedule to routinely document your wins, whether it’s once a day, once a week, or once a month.

While you’re at it, decide when you’ll make time to look back to review your accomplishments. An occasional peek at your own Good Shit could be just the boost you need to push through moments of self-doubt or frustration.

Writer in Milwaukee. Work appears in the Washington Post, The Guardian, Belt Magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, Midwest Living and others. laurensieben.com

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