When you build your career around your creative passions, where do you look to support your continued growth? Some people benefit from a mentor or coach, or even a trusted and supportive friend. But even if you have a good support network, you need to be your own motivator at the end of the day. And if you want to improve your productivity, motivation, or creative output, you have to know where to start.
Please note: This is a contributed post, but all opinions are my own. View full disclosure policy.
Set Goals to Track Your Growth
You don’t need to wait for the start of a new year to make goals. You can set goals at the start of the quarter, month, week, or even day. You can break these goals down into personal, work, and relationship goals. But most importantly, you want to make sure you set SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Let’s say you want to set a goal to produce more blog posts. That’s a good start, but you probably won’t get far if you leave it at that. When your goal is that broad, it’s harder to commit to action and tell when you’ve achieved success. Maybe you want to publish a new blog post every day. That’s certainly specific and easy to measure. But is it achievable with the time you have? You might instead say you’ll publish 3 blog posts every week for the next 30 days, and each one is 1,000 words.
There are a lot of different ways to keep track of your goals, from planners to online task managers like Asana and Trello. You could old-school with a traditional blackboard. Personally, I use a dry-erase board to track my goals with a reward system to stay productive.
Build Growth Opportunities Into Your Routine
It takes about three weeks for a new practice to become a habit. So if one of your goals is to begin a new routine for health or productivity, you need to commit to it every day for 21 days before that routine starts to feel automatic.
Consistency for those first three weeks is critical for new habits to stick. If you’re worried about falling out of practice for any reason, find an accountability partner. Let them know when you’re doing the things you said you’d do, or schedule a check-in time to go over what you thought you did well and where you could improve. A good accountability partner doesn’t make you feel guilty when you struggle; they praise you for trying and for having the self-awareness and honesty to acknowledge where you want to try harder.
After those three weeks are over, it should be easier to stick to your routine. You’ll need less self-motivation as your day is already planned out. So you can wake up every morning with a sunrise alarm clock, drink water, meditate, stretch, or work out all before you start work if that’s the routine that works best for you. Every day you practice — even if you don’t do as well as you hoped — you get better.
Push Against Your Comfort Zone
If you want to grow beyond what you’re currently capable of, you need to extend your reach. Figure out what the next level is and try for it. If you’re a content writer, try your hand at a new format or a different subject. Maybe you go for a long-form article instead of a basic list, or you write reviews and product breakdowns for Motorola radio accessories. When you try something new and it turns out great, it feels amazing. Suddenly the challenge doesn’t seem so scary and you can’t wait to face the next one.
Of course, not every attempt goes well. That’s okay. If you tried something and it didn’t turn out, you learn from it. Maybe you learn that new paint requires a different type of brush, or you need to adjust your knitting pattern for that textured yarn. Failure is only a means for finding where you need to focus.
Read a Self-Improvement Book
Self-improvement books are some of the best resources for creating your own personal development strategy. Rather than giving you some hard and fast rules on what you “should” be doing, they challenge you to consider your thoughts and behaviors through different perspectives. At the same time, you get to see how others worked through the same challenges you’re struggling with.
The fascinating thing about self-help books is how they often translate from their focus to broader life topics. Take Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Folding your underwear into thirds isn’t going to make much difference in how you run your creative business. But when you get into the habit of tuning in to what sparks joy in you, you feel more confident in making business choices based on what will bring you joy in your work.
Final Thoughts on Personal Growth
You are in charge of your own development. It’s up to you to find out how you want to grow, whether it’s creatively, personally, or professionally, and then take the steps the achieve that growth. Everyone has different needs and learns differently, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts don’t help as much as you hoped. Keep trying, keep learning, and keep growing.