This manifests as something called completion bias, a happy-making hit of dopamine that we get whenever we recognize a task as complete. And because we are hard-wired to crave completion, there are few things that keep us more engaged at work — and in life — than feeling a sense of progress.
In a fascinating study, Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile tracked emotions, motivations and perceptions of 238 knowledge workers over the course of 4 months, ultimately collecting over 12,000 diary entries. The results were unequivocal:
Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.
And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.