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Monday, February 16, 2009

One small step for man

So a lot of people have these great ideas, but they say stuff like “I don’t have time.” Or “I don’t know how.” The answer to these questions (yes it’s another question) is: What’s the next step you CAN take? It doesn’t matter how small a step. It’s infinitely better than taking 0 steps. And if you can be disciplined enough to string together a bunch of these tiny steps, pretty soon you look back and you’re a ton further than you ever thought you’d be. Two proverbs come to mind.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

So what do you think is the most important bite? Or the most important step? You might think it’s the first one. But the most important step is the last step you took plus one. In other words, the next step. It doesn’t matter how small that next step is, as long as you’re taking that next step regularly you’ll be amazed at how much progress you can make.

Have you ever been to Disney World? You get in one of those really long lines for a ride. You step to the end and look at the miles of people in line, winding back and forth like a snake about 20 times before it goes into a building, and who knows how long it goes for inside that building. So you get in line and hunker down for the long haul. As the people in front of you step forward, you take a few steps forward. A few minutes of conversation later, the line moves up another couple steps. You follow. After a few more minutes, you turn the first bend and double back and for the first time you can look at all the schmucks who are BEHIND you in line. And it goes way back. By simply getting in line, taking a few steps at a time, you’re suddenly a ton further than everyone else.

I was having lunch with someone recently, and we were throwing around some business ideas. Then he said to me “boy, you’re so much further than I’ll ever be at starting a business.” Which was really shocking to me because I haven’t even gotten anything to make enough money to even buy him lunch yet. But I took a look back, and if you would’ve told my 2 years ago self that I would even be talking about revenues and expenses at all, and that someone who say that to me, I would’ve been really happy with my future self. And it all started because I started dabbling with some php (which I still suck at) and one of the co-authors on this blog gave me about 3 lines of code to help me out.

I’ll give you another analogy. I’ve been trying to get myself stronger, so a friend challenged me to do 25 pushups by a certain time. My baseline was about 20 at that time. And man was it a struggle to get to 20. One time I got to 20 and was just about to die when I told myself, heck, let’s shoot for 21 just to break that psychological barrier. So I pushed and got 21. The next few times I hit 21. So then I shot for 22. I struggled but got to 22 comfortably. I don’t remember how long ago that was (the friend and I never did follow up on the 25 limit) but I can tell you now I’m at 34. All by taking one seemingly insignificant step at a time.

So go out and figure out what’s one small step you can take. Be creative. If you want to fly to outer space, the first step is to Google “space tourism” and figure out how much it costs. The next step may be to check out this blog to figure out how to start to make that kind of money. Or it maybe to Google “php” and figure out what that is.



Jason Cohen said...

Completely agree! This is similar to the GTD "next action" concept, where for any project you define ONLY the next step that would push the project forward incrementally.

It's also worth reinforcing (repeating?) your point that it doesn't matter how small the action is. Sending one email. Making one choice. Even if it's deciding what the next three actions are (in priority order)! Or you could ask someone else what the next action is.

There's always a possible "next." Psychologically it's easy if it's a simple step.

The only additional advice I have is: Believe Dale! I know it sounds like this is no big deal, that this isn't a big enough concept that it could really change the way you work.

But it is that big a deal. At least it was for me.

Dale said...

Jason... do you have any examples of the one small step that lead you to where you are now? Or maybe you can make that your next blog entry!

Tom said...

Dale - That's how we started our business - just keep plugging away - do one thing in the right direction. You'd be surprised how far it gets you. I think another big help is to have people around you with similar goals and motivations to keep each other going!

Great blog! You've inspired me to write one on productivity that I will post to the Corporatepreneur Blog shortly!

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