- Do one small thing right now.
- No third step required.
P.S. Some Background to this Snarky Post
In business, it’s easy to freak out. Especially if we’re pinched for money. Especiallisimo if we’re small and seemingly unimportant to the overall turning of the world. The common recommendation to avoid feelings of smallness is to hustle and let people know about it. Decent advice, I suppose.
Let’s take Arnold Schwarzenegger. He hustled, and he let people know. From all I can tell, he had a pretty good plan about what to do with his life early on. His bucket list probably read something like this:
- Become Mr. Olympia.
- Make a career as a Hollywood actor.
- Get elected as a governor of a huge-ass state.1
Unfortunately, not all of us are going to become Mr. Olympia, the next Terminator or governors of huge-ass states just because we follow Arnold’s advice to “work like hell” and “sleep faster”.
To be honest, working like hell and sleeping faster would probably just turn me into a grumpy old man.
So here’s the question: What lessons can we learn from people that do less? From people that go slower? How could a basic approach to tempo giusto business look like?
Do the Smallest Thing You Can
Ultimately, doing epic shit comes down to doing tiny things. (Gentle little huge steps, as I call them in Beyond Rules.)
Someone who really got this is Michael Nobbs. After getting diagnosed with ME (or CFS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), he had to learn to take things really slow – much slower than most people could probably picture. But over the years of doing at least “one thing today” to move on his creative work forward, Michael managed to make a career as an illustrator and book author.
Obviously, there are thousands of people out there who are more successful than Michael because they make more money.
But Michael is more successful than all of them because he has the time to drink a lot more tea. (Most certainly, he also bakes a lot more cakes!)
The lesson: Success is what you make it. Instead of sleeping faster and working like hell, sleeping more and simply doing one small thing each day might be the better alternative.
Aim for the Tiniest Goal
If you look up the word “procrastination facilitation machine” in a dictionary, you’ll find an image of a huge goal.2
For instance, one goal of mine earlier this year was a complete redesign of The Friendly Anarchist. Unfortunately, I just never got around doing it. The reason is simple: The goal was way too big and vague to approach it without putting further thought to it. (David Allen knows why he likes action lists.)
So what I did was to sit down and think about making that goal smaller.
As it turned out, “redesigning TFA” entails a whole bunch of sub-goals: Creating a new logo. Learning about how to change the Thesis theme design. Rewriting my About page. Each of these goals, then, entails another bunch of even smaller goals: Research logos that you like. Develop five to ten sketches. Get feedback on them. Decide on one and create a nicer draft. Digitalize it. And so on.
Ever since I started making these smaller goals, I have experienced a lot of progress. The redesign is now close to completion.
The lesson: The first step to reaching a large goal is to make it smaller. Make it smaller until it’s neat and tiny. Then, make it even smaller. Find out what exactly needs to be done in order to make some progress. If that isn’t obvious yet, getting clear about it is your first goal. Put it on a list, if necessary: “Define next steps for project X.” If you do that, resistance will vanish.
How can we be sovereign if our lives are being commanded by the fierce wizards of speed?
In my experience, the more you hurry, the more time seems to compress. It’s part of the great 20th century narrative in the West that time is money and that we have to fight hard to earn and defend it. But if we look at other cultures, we notice that there are different ways to perceive it.
Here’s an idea: The next time you feel stressed because you’re stuck in traffic, go slower. And by that I don’t mean jamming up traffic even more, but slowing down mentally: Instead of turning antisocial and fighting for each inch of asphalt, put up some smooth music and just flow with the stream of cars, as slow as it might move.
For a change, stay in the present. Look at the graffitis. Look at the people in the other cars. Look at some flowers along the way. Look at the weeds. It’s summer in the Northern hemisphere: Have you ever noticed how beautiful many of these “pest plants” are?3
In the end, you’ll probably reach your destination three minutes later than if you would have pushed and fought and panicked. But if there’s one thing I can guarantee to you, it’s that those three minutes won’t be missed. Ever. You’ll get them back at the end of your life, and with a nice interest.
The lesson: Time is eternal. We’ve all got the same 24 hours in a day, for business and for leisure. Happiness cannot be measured in terms of speed. Quality of life, neither.
- Do one small thing right now.
- No third step required.
- Everything else was just a large P.S.
- (No, really!)
- This should, of course, say “president”. But unfortunately Arnie couldn’t run for that office in the country he was interested in. Still, being the governor of California probably entails 20 times more power than being the president of Austria. No offense intended, my Austrian friends. Vergeltsgott! [↩]
- Fun fact: If you look up “writers repeatedly using ridiculous metaphors”, you’ll find an image of yours truly! [↩]
- Yup, there are some in the image above! [↩]
Hi, Fabian. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months. I really like your ideas and the way you express them, especially in this latest post. Thank you!
Thanks a lot to YOU, Jane, and welcome to TFA! Glad you’re around! :)
Nice post. I’m doing this right now that i finished college and starting to take control of things again.
My guitar practice time is back again and i’m learning one thing at a time. I stopped the nonsense about getting faster on guitar and i’m focusing only on slow and simple blues for the start.
I will start to exercise again next week, every day a 30 minuto to 1 hour walk listening to music and watching the chicks, without any urge to become the next iron man. Just walk and relax with good music.
Looking forward to see the new TFA.
That definitely sounds like music mastery and exercise, tempo giusto style. Have a great time, Cristhyano! :)
That table up there is the perfect workspace, except for the beer. But that could be exchanged for a cup of tea.
To be honest, it was the beer that made it for me! But I’ll also enjoy a nice cuppa from time to time! ;)
I am really enjoying your site. It is encouraging to me, because I feel like I have been stuck waiting for my life to start for the last 6 years. I am paralyzed by a need to be original, and a big-picture thought pattern that keeps me from taking small steps. As a stay at home Mom, I feel like I have lost much of my creativity, and it is hard to know how to start my career again. Every time I think of an idea, I find out that it has already been done, and get depressed. If you have any advice for me, I would love it. Thanks for the great articles.
Hey Emily, I’ll be in touch by mail, so that my comment doesn’t get lost here! :)
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