We all aim for success, and it’s not easy. How do you get started?
As we enter into a new year, we often reflect on our past and contemplate on our future. We make goals. We make resolutions. We make targets.
However, more often than not, these goals remain to be a dream another year later. As we reflect, we wonder where did the time go? How come the goals that we were so enthused about not so long ago still seem so out of reach after all this time? Or, how could we have made so little progress toward these goals that we earlier deemed important and exciting? What happened?
Let me let you in on a secret. The trick is in taking that first step.
President Obama tweeted at the end of the year urging his followers to take that first step toward the changes we want to see happen. He didn’t ask for a full-blown revolution. He didn’t ask for a big commitment. He only asked for a first step.
However, that trick is not exactly new. We kinda sorta know that is the key to success. The bottom line is — taking that first step is easier said than done. That first step is often the hardest step to take!
Therefore, to be successful, we need to make taking that first step as easy as possible for ourselves.
Let’s take a small detour and look at another concept — in the realm of productivity. (I promise it’s all related.)
Years ago, I wrote about timestacking. Timestacking is the idea of “ extracting every bit of capacity from time for maximum efficiency. Uber multitasking,” as defined by Sally Hogshead in her book Radical Careering. For years, I have been applying this concept of timestacking to my everyday life, which have made me more productive.
How do I apply timestacking to my everyday life?
Remember back in school, our teacher taught us about volume with a glass. She would fill up that glass with rocks. Then, she would fill that glass up with pebbles. Despite the glass was seemingly filled with rocks, she found space for the pebbles. Then, she would fill that glass with sand. Again, despite that glass was already “full” with rocks and pebbles, more space was found to fit in the sand. That is timestacking.
I would break my projects into the tiniest little pieces of tasks. This way, I have more flexibility in fitting the different tasks around each other.
For example: The big project at hand would be to create a piece of marketing material. A step within that project would be to gain legal alignment. Often, “gain legal alignment” would be what goes on a to-do list. In that case, at 9:29am, that could not get done before the 9:30 meeting. At 11:59am, if “gain legal alignment” was still on the to-do list, it would get rolled off to after lunch. After lunch, some other things would ambush the day. Before long, it would be 4:59pm. The item “gain legal alignment” remained on that to-do list and the task would rolled off to yet another day.
However, what if that step was broken down even further? What if we had put “email copy to lawyer” on that to-do list? At 8:29am, it would be possible to fire off an email before that morning meeting. With that change, that item is crossed off the to-do list. While it’s true that “awaiting legal reply” would then be put back onto the to-do list, we have made progress. The project inched forward.
This idea of breaking big projects into the tiniest possible tasks can also help us achieve our bigger goals.
Whatever our goals may be, find that tiniest first step. Tiniest being the operative word.
It is difficult to fight against inertia. Inertia is the tendency to remain unchanged. If we do not take any steps toward achieving our goals, as humans, we tend to remain unchanged. We tend to remain to not take any steps toward achieving our goals.
However, once we take that tiny first step, our tendency to remain unchanged works for us, instead of against us. We unknowingly commit ourselves to a path. Our state of “unchanged” is to continue taking tiny steps. With each tiny steps, we inch closer to our goals. Perhaps in another year, our goals may remain unfulfilled entirely. However, we could reflect on that year proudly, having made progress on our goals.
Furthermore, in my everyday timestacking, I have found another benefit toward breaking my projects into tiny tasks. It allows me to be completely focused at that task at hand. Whenever I have worked on mega-tasks, I would get fatigue mentally quickly. I would get distracted easily, probably because I was not able to see the end of the tunnel. With that lack of focus, I would just simply not get as much done… But with tiny tasks, I accomplish each task with focus, with pride. Each task gets me that much closer to completing my project.
Same idea applies toward taking tiny steps toward our goals. Tiny steps are easier to take. Yet, each step takes us closer to our goals. Each step creates momentum that continues to propel us forward.
Let me tell you a story about how I found a tiny step for a goal of mine…
As another year ends and another year starts, many of us make new year resolutions. A common new year resolution is to lose weight. I am not a big fan of new year resolutions because I find January 1st to be a random date for goal making. I make goals whenever I decide something needs to be done.
At some point, I did also decide that losing some weight would be a good idea. (In case you’re wondering, there would be no embarrassing picture of before and after in this post.)
Losing weight and looking good was the vanity goal. Getting healthier was the ultimate goal. (Think of it as Facebook like is a vanity metric, and improving sales as the ultimate goal.) The internet certainly offered many ideas on how to achieve my goal. However, I knew that crazy weight loss schemes or fad diets were not going to work. I knew that it would involve some form of better nutrition and exercise.
I have always been a foodie. So, I needed to moderate my diet. But exercise, that was something that I had a hard time finding the time to do.
I work a lot of hours. I have a long commute. When I have that tiniest bit of free time, I just want to relax, maybe watch some television. I just couldn’t find the time or motivation to get ready, go to a gym, and exercise. To me, going to a gym and exercise was a big taunting task.
So, I applied the idea of breaking that into smaller steps. Could I make exercising a smaller task? What would be the tiniest step I could take?
I decided that if getting ready to go to a gym full of fancy equipment was too big of a task, can I do a little stepper at home, perhaps while watching tv?
So, my first step was to buy a tiny stepper. I literally started working out on this little stepper in front of the television. It was hardly a commitment. Now, truth be told, it was hardly an exercise…
But that was the first step that got me started. I got excited when I was stepping away watching reality TV. I felt like I was being productive during a time that was otherwise “wasted”. I got excited that exercising was actually pretty easy to get started.
It was that sense of accomplishment that gave me the momentum I needed to take the next step. This is how this works. Inertia! One step leading to the next.
Now, the stepper has been retired to a corner in my apartment. In its place is a Peloton bike. It was a major purchase, and one that I would have never committed to if it weren’t for that first tiny step. Now, I bike virtually every day. I feel stronger. I feel healthier. I feel better. It all began with a doing a few steps in front of the television.
So, what are your goals, and what is the tiniest first step you could take toward that goal?
Originally published in The Ascent.