To achieve big things, think small

Posted by in Productivity

To achieve big things, think small

Don’t tell me: you have a list of things that you’d just love to get started on, which – for some strange reason – seem to elude your attention. It’s more common than you think, and the fix is so obvious you’ll most likely smack yourself.


There’s a pattern somwehere in here


One or more of these items don’t belong on this list; can you guess which one(s)?

  1. Paint house
  2. Landscape garden
  3. Buy 4″ nails
  4. Replace old plumming


Ready for the answer? It’s number 1, 2 and 4. Number 3 isn’t perfect either, as I’d rather it specified where to go to buy the nails, but it’s a small enough thing to stand out on my list of to-dos when I check it in the afternoon as something I can effortlessly add to the list of errands I’ll run in the evening.


The key here is how easy it is to get started with what’s on the to-do list. Most people make the error of picturing what they would like to achieve – which is synonymous to a goal – and then putting this on their to-do list. So, when exactly was the last time you just happened to have a chunk of time available for finishing landscaping the garden in one single go?


That’s what I thought.


Why, oh why do our brains torment us so?


From any given list of to-dos, our brains will invariably seek the following order of completion: first, the urgent ones, which our brains scream must be handled now or there will be unpleasant consequences in the short term; second, the smaller ones, which renders a warm and fuzzy feeling of productivity as we check them off in rapid progression; and finally, the important ones – often simply because the other two are prioritized first.


If you’ve ever spent a lot of time looking at your to-do list (or better yet, at those of others to remove your subjectivity), you may have noticed that the goals that tend to be important are also inconspicuously big. That is, they’re not something you can go ahead and get started on easily. And that’s proof you’ve committed the obvious error of listing what is really a goal on your to-do list instead of the thing you must do next to get started.


Fans of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology will recognize this as a Next Action, which describes the required step perfectly: the very next physical thing you can do to move forward on achieving your goal.


Think small


Instead of paint house, try decide on colour with spouse. Instead of landscape garden, try buy landscaping magazine to get ideas. Instead of replace old plumming, just call the damn plummer already.


Suddenly, you’re on your way. And you won’t have to smack yourself anymore, which is an added bonus.