A Little Bit Is A Lot

Feels like I just touched down in San Francisco and turned around and took off again! After getting back in town after last week’s working vacation, I’m off again to Dallas and then Austin, Texas for work, conferences and a weekend in Austin. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of new and familiar faces in the crowds. 

If you missed it, yesterday there was a great post on Chris Guillebeau’s blog following up on the one page career cheat-sheet from last month, where Chris asked me a few questions about what it means to be happy at your job, and what tools you can use to change your situation if you’re stuck somewhere and you’re not sure what to do.

In thinking about change, however, it’s also good to remember that it can be slow at first, and sometimes not much seems like it’s happening. I get it. It can be frustrating. I’ve been there over and over again, and often I want to bang my head against the wall and ask, “why is nothing happening!??” Sometimes I get so frustrated or scared, I give up. But it’s really important to keep going. Here’s one essay I was drafting last week in my notebooks on this very subject. 

A little is a lot.

I procrastinate–sometimes, a lot, I’m afraid to admit–and the bigger a goal or dream of mine is, the worse this habit is. I’ll even throw in some productive things to do in lieu of tackling the big, scary goal or project. When I set my sights too far away from my current state, I can render myself helpless, weak, scared, or terrifically frightened.

It ends up feeling something like this:

 

In terms of growth, we often have unreasonable expectations for ourselves to scale huge walls in quantum leaps without respect for the time and energy it takes to really do what we want to do.

And when I stagnate–when I procrastinate, delay, or avoid doing something because the something I’ve chosen is just too big–then I end up doing nothing.

Isn’t that worse?

As a constant reminder, I find that there’s a general rule of thumb I keep in my pocket for whenever I feel so scared that I want to procrastinate:

A little bit is a lot.

And along those lines:

If it’s too big to do, make what you’re trying to do today smaller.

Case in point: I was working on the designs for a 200-page document. Each time I thought about working on it, I didn’t have the time, energy, or brain space to consider editing the entire document. So I procrastinated–a lot more than I’d like to admit. I tried to break it down into chunks–Sarah, do 50 pages at a time. Unfortunately, the chunks were still too big. I was too tired at the days’ end to do several more hours of work, so I ended up putting it off some more.

I reminded myself: what’s the smallest step, the littlest bit that I can do to make a dent in the pile? 10 pages? 5 pages? even just 1 page? And so I started, telling myself that a few pages was okay. It was enough to get me to start the project again.

And then I sat and did 30 pages. And the next day, another 20 pages. Slowly, steadily, I did make progress on it–by not making myself overwhelmed by trying to tackle too much.

If there’s something you’re afraid of, or you’re putting of, and you’re still not working on it–maybe make your expectations for today even smaller.

Growth is about incremental change.

Something like this is more appropriate:

Breathe.

Yes, a little step is really a lot.

Just take a little step, every day.

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13 Responses to A Little Bit Is A Lot

  1. Jay says:

    I know how you feel; I graduated from my twenties with a double major in procrastination and terrification.

    Lately I’ve been a mega-slut for the Pomodoro Technique — set a timer for a short period of time and then commit yourself to focus on the task at hand for the duration. Once the bell dings, take a short respite along with a breath/stretch/shot, then do it all over again. Committing to the full project at hand may be tough, but focusing for 20-25 minutes at a time certainly is not!

  2. Awesome blog post and illustrations, Sarah! The good news is that procrastination is essential for innovation: http://blogs.hbr.org/johnson/2012/03/procrastination-is-essential-t.html

  3. I am right there right now thinking of how to get my startup to fruition. I am constantly procrastinating and part of it is because I have a fulltime job and also because I cannot seem to start small. I have big ideas and it feels small if I work on small bits. This post is really an eye opener. First time here and looking forward to reading more.

  4. Mike says:

    Your post reminds me of something that I read from George Leonard, who wrote “Mastery” and a couple of other books on personal growth: “Most learning occurs while we’re on the plateau.”

    Just remember to take a step every day, even if you’re not seeing any results that day. There will be one day where something comes together and integrates, and it’ll seem like a step up. Instead it’s the culmination of all of the plateau work you’ve done, one step at a time.

  5. Matt says:

    Thanks for the reminder to look back and reflect on just how far I have come. Within the big picture my progress still feels small, but I have indeed come a long way.

  6. Maria says:

    Hi Sarah!

    I love the sketches! They do a great job explaining the value of incremental growth, or else continuous improvement. Did you do them yourself?

  7. […] A little bit is a lot Written by: Sarah Peck […]

  8. We just found your site today and we are so fired up and inspired by your posts!!! This one is especially speaking to our hearts today! One step at a time is better than none. Thank you for inspiration and reminder that through small growth we all can make big change!

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  10. Melissa says:

    Wonderful!

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