I often get asked how I have time to do the things I do – write, go to school, mountain bike, maintain a reasonably orderly home and life … yeah, I am pretty productive, but the secret is that there is no secret. I’m a big believer in the power of the small.
Small changes, small steps – applied consistently over time. Sure it means you might have to wait a few years to get where you want to go, but you will get there. This time of year especially, people seem to want the quick fixes – new body in 6 weeks, uncluttered house in a weekend, easy 10-step plan to financial freedom.
A quick look over the women’s magazine section of any newsstand, or the self-help section of any bookstore, will tell you that these quick fixes don’t work – if they did we wouldn’t have to revisit them every month, and we wouldn’t see a new crop of quick-fix miracle books every January.
I understand the appeal of the quick fix. Once you’ve decided that you want to change your life, why would you want to sit around in your old life any longer than necessary? If the quick fix worked, I would be all over it, but since it doesn’t, I present these ten small things you can do today that will make a meaningful difference over time. And, if you stay engaged in life the time will fly by and you’ll be an virtuoso pianist/ninja/published author/expert chef before you know it.
- Take out the list of things you have been meaning to do and do one of them. If the things on your list are too big to do in one day, break them down into items you can do in under an hour and do one of those. Tomorrow, pick another thing and do it. And so forth.
- Spend 30 minutes practicing at something you have been trying to get good at. Do this again tomorrow.
- Save some money. Even if it seems like too small an amount to do any good, just save it and keep it saved. Then save some more. Keep repeating.
- Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Without thinking too much about it, just start writing down all the stuff that you wish you could do with your life. Write until you run out of stuff to write about. Go back and look at it a few days later and find the one or two topics that keep popping up. These are the things you should focus on, as much as possible once you have addressed the need for food, clothing, shelter, and health. For me, it was writing and airplanes.
- Once you know what your one or two things are, cultivate the habit of saying no to other obligations. Just because someone else thinks it’s a good idea for you to do something, it doesn’t mean you have to agree. Of course any pre-arranged commitments should be honored, but once they’re complete, be picky about what you say yes to.
- Get picky, too, about the quality of commitments even if they do align to your goals. For me, this meant that I don’t need to attend every single writing seminar/publishing workshop/marketing webcast I hear about. Sometimes my purposes are better served by staying home and writing, or just recharging.
- Speaking of recharging: develop respect for the power of white space in your life. Some people can gogogogogo 18 hours a day; for them every hour is as productive as the last. But many people, me included, need to intersperse the productive periods with fallow periods in order to recharge so when we go back into a productive phase, we’re in top mental condition and able to do high quality work.
- Be direct. I can’t quantify the amount of time that’s wasted through poor communication, but I know it’s a lot. It’s so much faster to just get to the point than to think through and execute an indirect way of conveying what you need to say. And, half the time, the indirect way doesn’t convey what you mean to say anyway, so more time and energy is lost to do-overs.
- Don’t apologize for who you are. Unless you’re an asshole – then you can’t apologize enough. But, seriously, don’t apologize for living on your terms, for failing to live up to someone else’s expectations of you. It’s your life – live it like you own it.
- Always be putting stuff away. I don’t meant this metaphorically. I mean it literally. When you’re in your house/car/workspace, always be putting stuff where it belongs. It only takes a moment, and the result is that your house will look nice and you won’t spend time looking for your keys, or that bill you know is due tomorrow, or your remote. That’s time you can spend being productive, or recharging.