Take Little Steps Toward Big Results

If you’re like most people, your work and your life are made up of many different tasks, projects, and goals. Some of them are big, some are medium-size, but the vast majority are relatively little.

This presents a practical problem, because – while we generally feel highly motivated to accomplish our biggest tasks, projects, and goals, and we can usually muster a decent level of motivation to complete most of our medium-size ones – we often find it hard to generate enough motivation and energy to take care of all the relatively small items confronting us.

That’s why I’m suggesting some simple techniques to help you complete those housekeeping, preparatory, clean-up and other little tasks, projects, and goals that inevitably pile up, weighing heavily on your mind and spirit as long as you leave them undone.

Round Them Up

Cowboys would go crazy and never complete their work if they moved cattle from grazing land to market one animal at a time. Instead, they simplify and aggregate those tasks by “rounding up” the cattle into a single herd, and taking them all to market at once.

You can and should do the same with that backlog of your small tasks, projects, and goals.

It almost doesn’t matter how you round them up. You can group them by:

  • Type of task: aggregate each type – such as your incidental writing, reading, meetings, telephone calls, computer work, plumbing, housekeeping, carpentry, painting, sewing, cleaning, or whatever – and finish all of each type in one session.
  • Type of thinking: aggregate each type – such as your planning, sorting and filing, neatening and organizing, strategizing, creating, or any other type of thinking – and tackle all of each type in one session.
  • Place of work: aggregate everything that needs to be done at a specific place – such as your garden shed, basement workshop, local shopping area, or wherever – and complete them all in one visit, rather than many short ones. (Note: This tactic probably won’t apply well to your office, as you go there quite regularly and usually have way more than you can do in one visit.)

You can repeat these round-up sessions once a day, once a week, once a month, or whenever your backlog begins to feel like a burden.

Gamify Them

For a variety of reasons, we often feel more motivation, work faster and better, and get more pleasure when we add elements of “games” to our otherwise ordinary tasks, projects, and goals.

You can do this by such tricks as:

  • Timing how long it takes you, and trying to do it faster next time,
  • Adding music to the environment (“Whistle while you work”), then working in rhythm with the music,
  • Strictly limiting the activity to a short burst of just a few minutes, then coming back to it later for another short burst,
  • Scheduling a series of breaks in advance, and then try to keep busy at your small tasks, projects, and goals during the “work” periods between the breaks,
  • Dedicating one whole morning, afternoon, or even a full day to completing only your small tasks, projects, and goals,
  • Pairing a burdensome task, project, or goal with some reward – such as a pleasurable activity or perhaps a food treat.

Along those lines, here’s a “game” idea you may be able to adapt to your own situation: When I was learning to think and write for long periods of time, I paid myself points for every hour of concentration – one point for the first hour, two points for the second hour, three points for the third hour, and four points for the fourth hour of working without a break. I used these points to “buy” an hour or two (cost: 10 points per hour) in which I would do something I really enjoyed at the time (most often, working to repair my broken sports car). Within a few weeks, I was concentrating for four hours or more without a break and loving every minute of it. (Full disclosure: I never could keep that car running for long, but I had a great time working on it.)

You can use some of these tricks individually, or combine them in ways that make sense to you – whatever helps you clear your to-do list of those small but burdensome tasks, projects, and goals.

The benefits of taking small steps to complete your tiny tasks, projects, and goals include the following:

  1. Completing these smaller tasks, projects, and goals helps keep the lights on.
  2. Completing them also reduces their emotional and psychological burdens, which tend to sap your energy and motivation for the big, important items in your work and your life.
  3. Completing these little steps can – and ultimately does – add up to some major accomplishments.

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