How to Increase Productivity by Evaluating Your Progress with Retrospectives

Optimize your path and your productivity system by evaluating your progress at increments and milestones

The best way to achieve your goals is to use a productivity system in which you assess your progress along the way. This includes tracking how you perform and discovering if there’s a better, more efficient way. 

How can you tell if you’re making progress or not? The first step is to set goals in the proper way. You can monitor your progress by breaking down your big goals into smaller ones, creating milestones where you can evaluate your results at each stage. 

When you set a goal, it really helps to be specific and break it up into smaller increments. It’s not that useful just to say your goal is to become a professional athlete or an executive of a Fortune 500 company. 

How are you going to get there? What’s your roadmap? What steps are you taking?

Set up milestones on your roadmap. The question you should ask yourself is, does your milestone move you toward your ultimate goal? 

For each milestone, take a scientific approach and analyze your process. Was the road smooth or bumpy? Were there any blockers?

Define your goals with this free worksheet!

Know exactly what you’re aiming towards.

Begin by Creating Better Goals

It all starts with the goals you create. There are two popular goal-setting frameworks you can use to help evaluate progress. These are great tools to use for your productivity system.

The SMART Framework

The SMART framework helps you create well-defined goals with which you can evaluate your progress. It was first recorded in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran–will guide your goal-setting process:

The SMART Framework

Specific: What exactly is expected? You can use the five W’s–who, what, when, where, why. 

Measurable: This will help you track what kind of progress is being made and help you stay on track. 

Achievable: Is it attainable? It should be neither out of reach nor below standard performance. 

Relevant: How much does it matter to your life, your team, to your business? 

Time-bound: Set a time-frame with a target date and perhaps provides a sense of urgency. 

With your goal defined, you can focus your energy on activities that matter to your goal. Your efforts will be all be aimed towards reaching that goal.

Objectives and Key Results

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are similar to SMART goals. OKRs encourage you to aim high, creating ambitious, stretch goals. At Google, for example, achieving success with OKRs means reaching 70% of the objectives.

Objectives describe specific results or conditions. Key results, which refer to the outcome, must be both measurable and quantifiable. Achieving key results moves you towards accomplishing your objectives.

Anyone should be able to look at your OKRs and determine whether or not the objective has been achieved.

Create Milestones

Break down any major goal or task into segments. It’s like building a house. You can break down the construction into various aspects, such as the foundation, walls, electricity, plumbing, and roofing.

Of course, it makes sense to build certain things before others. You can’t lay down the roof without something to support it.

Once you define your goal properly, create short-term goals or milestones using the same process. These milestones are the key elements of your productivity system that will help you track your progress.

Let’s say you want to lose 12 pounds in three months. You could set a milestone for the end of each month:

  1. Four pounds after the first month
  2. Eight pounds after the second month
  3. 12 pounds after the third month

Or maybe you want to increase the revenue for your business by 15% each month over the next quarter. 

After you hit the deadline for each milestone, you should assess that performance period.

Assess your Productivity with Retrospectives

Many businesses, especially tech companies, use the agile scrum methodology. This is an iterative process where the duration of the project is split into periods of time called sprint cycles and program increments (PI). 

Sprint cycles and PIs of a few weeks are used to complete projects and deliver products or updates according to the milestones on the product roadmap. 

The methodology includes regular sessions called retrospectives to assess performance and reflect on whether adjustments need to be made. These sprint cycles aren’t simply used to deliver products and updates. Teams also use them to assess these sprints and PIs to optimize their processes. 

Once a PI is finished, teams might hold a retrospective session where they evaluate their own performance and their collaboration during the PI.

You might be asking, “How does this apply to me?”

You can also use retrospectives in your productivity system as a great technique to evaluate your progress during a performance period for your milestones or short-term goals. Here are a few ways you can provide structure to your retrospectives.

Start, Stop, and Continue

Think about your days and how any activity, big or small, affected your performance for that period. This might include what you do right after you get home from work, before eating dinner, or what kind of activity you engage in after dinner. 

What should you start doing? What should you stop doing? What should you continue doing? 

If you want to lose weight, your assessment might look like this:

START

Add an extra session of exercise to your week.

STOP

Consume 100 calories every other day.

CONTINUE

Drink water instead of soda.

If you want to increase productivity for your side project after work, your retrospective might include some of these ideas:

START

Read a book or play an instrument to decompress a bit.

STOP

Watch Netflix after dinner.

CONTINUE

Before dinner, plan the top task you want to accomplish.

These three categories put you in an actionable mindset. The categories themselves are action words so whatever you list may be implemented immediately in your productivity system for the next milestone.

The Quick Retrospective

This method also takes a direct approach to evaluating your performance period. It’s another simple framework to understand and use. 

There are four categories. Two that assess the performance period and two that look forward to the next performance period: what was good, what was bad, ideas, and actions to take.

Once you consider the good and the bad, brainstorm any ideas you might use for the next performance period. Note not just the good ideas, but the bad ideas as well. Any idea that pops up, write it down.

Then, examine your list of ideas and narrow them down to the ones that you want to take action on.

Continue the Cycle

The key idea to retrospectives is you create a list of ideas to test and to improve your productivity system. When the next retrospective comes around, assess whether those ideas worked. It helps you find a productivity system that works best for you.

This is a cycle that allows you to optimize your process. Even when things don’t go as planned, you can work on your points of failure and any barriers. Or you can increase efficiency for existing processes of your system. 

You may run into some obstacles but the retrospectives will help smoothen your path towards your goals. These sessions will boost your efforts in becoming a high performer.

Create an Action Plan for Your Goals

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