Everyone’s got lists going (in their head or on paper) all day long — the grocery list, the to-do list, maybe also a packing list, a goal list…and yes, these lists do help you get things done.
But it’s really just in the short term. Like a ticker or reminder, these little lists keep you organized and on track in the near future.
But what about in the long run and in the big scheme of things? Are these lists moving and propelling you positively towards accomplishing your long-term goals, your progress professionally, personally, and/or socially?
No matter what your goals are, daily to-do lists and other in-the-moment lists don’t necessarily help you figure out or measure your overall progress. And that is what you really need in order to see where you are at on the spectrum of accomplishing or not accomplishing your goals.
Which is why I want to tell you about the most important kind of list you can keep when it comes to moving your career forward.
What is an accomplishments list?
A tip from my manager, who had 40 years experience with the same employer, imparted on me the importance of keeping an accomplishment list. What is this list and why is it so important for your success?
When you’re asked what you’ve done since your last review, how easily do all the great things you’ve done come to mind?
Usually, it’s not the best things we’ve done that come to mind, but just the most recent. If you do something incredible in February but your review isn’t until October, what are the odds that project will still be at front of mind? Will you remember exactly how impactful it was?
No. And that will cost you.
You need to be able to point at the value you’ve created, at any moment in your career. Whether you are interviewing for a new job, doing a performance review, or gearing up for a promotion, knowing exactly what you’ve accomplished — and what impact that work had — will help you show key decision-makers in your career just how valuable you are.
And hey, it feels good to check in with your successes from time to time personally too. We all hit rough patches sometimes, and it can be a good reminder to see that you’ve accomplished great things.
Reviewing what things have gone well in your career can show you where your strengths are and give you ideas for how to tackle new challenges.
Ready to start your own accomplishments list? Here’s everything you need to know.
1. Where are you at?
How often do you revisit your daily to-do lists once that particular day is over? I’m guessing it’s almost never.
Because to-do lists have a temporary feeling and focus on the present and future moments, we add or create new ones as needed, only referring to the original list in order to cross off completed tasks or move on to the next.
But if you only ever add tasks to new lists every day, you only know one thing: what you have left to do. That’s it.
Arguably, no other information comes from a to-do list. It can feel like you’re getting nowhere every single day; you’re in a constant hamster wheel of add a task, cross it off, add a task, cross it off, add a task… The momentary feeling of accomplishing something is ultimately overshadowed by the length of yet-to-be-done tasks.
So what an accomplishment list does is help you track and figure out where you are at in the bigger picture, like finding your location on a map. Whenever you accomplish something of concrete value, you put it on your accomplishment list with some basic information like the date, the outcome, and any important numbers or names you might want in the future.
It’s a marker for where your work fits, not just in your day-to-day work, but in the overall picture of your career. It shows you how far you have come and gives you clues about where you should go next.
2. Reflect and evaluate
An accomplishment list’s success depends in part on reflection and self-evaluation. It forces you to stop, review your to-do lists or other information you have, and consider what came out of all that work.
In the realm of professional development and preparing for reviews, reflecting on your progress gives you the information you need to prove why you’re so amazing at what you do. What concrete, solid results have you achieved to backup your reasons for a promotion or raise, or to add to your resume?
Even if things haven’t gone well, reflecting through this kind of list is an opportunity to learn from mistakes and decide what you would do differently next time. If you had trouble coming up with more than 1 or 2 accomplishments to put on your list in the last few months, maybe it is time to think about a new role or changing the way you approach your work.
Reflecting and evaluating yourself brings so much value because it forces you slow down and be more present and aware of what all that work you are doing is actually for. It makes it so that you can’t just ignore the facts and barrel ahead doing the same things you’ve always done (which is what so many people do). If you want to truly leap ahead in your career, self-evaluation is critical.
3. Finding satisfaction
Accomplishing goals feels great. You set your mind to do something, take steps to do it, and get it done. But we all know it is not always that simple and the path from A to Z often gets windy and takes time. It can sometimes be months between major wins at work, and those intervening weeks can feel like a long slog.
So finding satisfaction along the way is key to keeping up your momentum and your confidence that you are on the right track. And that’s where an accomplishment list comes into play again.
It collects information about what’s going well, and in turn gives you satisfaction and appreciation for what you have done. For whatever reason, we often lose sight of good things that happen and let them be overshadowed in our minds by struggles and setbacks.
If you’re a really hard-working person, you probably don’t spend enough time celebrating your successes. I bet that when you get a win, your next thought is, “Great, that’s done. Now on to the next big problem to solve.” And that’s great for getting things done, but if all you ever think about are the problems ahead of you, you’ll miss out on the energy-renewing power of enjoying a win.
An accomplishment list encourages and increases those feelings of satisfaction with your work, or your professional and personal development. When you feel truly engaged with and proud of the work you are doing, it shows — to your peers, your manager, and your leadership. And that energy will take you very far as you continue to climb the ladder.
How to make an accomplishment list
To start, consider where you are going to keep this special list.
You’ll probably want to keep it in your planner for ease of access and safe keeping. Plus, if you use your planner to keep and track your goals and create to-do lists, all the information you need will be in one place. This will save you the headache and hassle of trying to find your notes and lists later on if you don’t trust yourself to keep organized.
If you can, create a separate electronic file with other documents or links that support or backup the items on your accomplishment list.
If you love having different notebooks for different purposes, then a specific journal or notebook dedicated just to your accomplishments could work well for you. This keeps the specific accomplishment information in one place and can make it easy to reference the past with ease.
Then consider when you are going to reflect and write or update your accomplishment list. Maybe it is once a month, once each quarter, or twice a year.
Some tips to consider and help you figure out what works best for you:
- Regardless of when you work on your accomplishment list, time it so it is the most beneficial to you and your schedule. If your review always lands in January, then plan to work on your accomplishment list and look back at your to-do lists in November, so you have time to collect all the relevant information you need.
- If you don’t want to look back over many months, don’t trust your memory or prefer a more frequent check in, write your accomplishment list every month.
- Consider getting into the habit of writing down accomplishments as they happen, so you don’t forget them. If you do this, you’ll want to also schedule a check-in with yourself once a quarter to review and evaluate your accomplishment list. Doing a check-in just to review your overall accomplishment progress will help you see patterns and make connections with the big picture. Plus, you may not realize you accomplished something in the moment, but only later, after time has passed, see how valuable it was.
- Your accomplishment lists can have varying start and end frames. You can keep an overall accomplishment list for your work, and then a second one related to a personal goal that you’re working on this year. They can tie together and overlap, if necessary.
Make it a ritual
Accomplishment lists don’t have to be hard, and they can pay off big time. Think of it like a scavenger hunt – every accomplishment you recall and discover is like an exciting and invaluable treasure…and it is much more than just another thing on your to-do list.