When you work for your own goals, you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder telling you what your bottom line is or what assignment to get done. No one is there to care if you succeed or fail except yourself.

So we give ourselves our own assignments.

Last year, I started a sketch-a-day goal which helped me immensely. But I discovered that wasn’t enough. It has since evolved into something else that I think has been even more useful: purposeful progress.

That is just a fancy way for me to say: Do something every day that moves you forward.

If you are trying to, say, learn the piano, you practice. However, not all practice is created equal. If you play the same scale every day for an hour, you will get really good at that scale, but not much else. The better way is to practice a scale today, try a more difficult scale tomorrow, learn part of a song the next day, and so on.

When I started my daily sketch goal, I wanted to concentrate on story, emotion, and color. And it succeeded – I am extremely happy with a lot of the pieces I created. After about a month or two however, the goal became a chore. Despite making lots of pretty sketches, it didn’t really result in portfolio pieces. I’d achieved what I wanted, but then came to a standstill creatively, and I became more worried about posting something online every day than about the actual work I was creating. Then a heavy load of freelance work ate up all my time, and I became discouraged and stopped posting. Despite my successes with the experiment, I thought I had failed.

But I soon started again with a new objective – to make something every day that will lead to something else. Simply drawing every day isn’t enough; I have to have a purpose for it. Maybe today I will thumbnail out 10 painting ideas. Then tomorrow I pick one and paint it. If today I explore character designs, maybe tomorrow I’ll write a story for that character. I can spend a week doing fan art, or a month drawing a comic, but every day should be spent working towards that goal. Today’s work fuels my tomorrow. And when I finish one project, I move on to the next.

This is what I’m doing nowadays: I keep a folder on my computer. Every day I put something in it. Each item is labeled with the date. It might be something as little as a pencil sketch or as large as a full illustration. It doesn’t matter as long as I’m putting something in there every day, and that it gives me something to work on tomorrow.

I like this new approach. It gives me a plan and routine. It has the regularity of the sketch-a-day, but is more goal-oriented. I have the flexibility to work on whatever type of project I want to do. And I can do a little or a lot, depending on my schedule, as long as it is something that builds on the day before.

So when you sit down today to draw or write or create, do it with purposeful progress. When you take a step, make sure it is forward.

BTW, you can see all the sketches and current work I talked about on this page. Like I mentioned above, I’m not posting there every day anymore, but I’m still updating it regularly.