I’ve just completed the last day of a 30-day challenge with a simple objective: Pick something, and work on it every day. Feeling moderately ambitious back in late August, I had decided to work on two things: Revising a manuscript, and continuing a renovation project in my house that had stalled.
This afternoon, I got to check off the September 30 squares on the two calendars I had been keeping since the beginning of the month. At the end of it all, I achieved a perfect score on both objectives, working a little on each of them every day.
How did I do it? By sticking to one simple principle: The mere act of doing something, anything, was more important than the quantity of work. Scratching out the word “a” on a page and writing in “the” counted as work. Pulling a single nail counted as work. There was no competition to put in the same amount of effort every day, so there was no pressure to repeat or top an unusually productive day, no danger of falling short of an overambitious goal, and minimal danger of burnout from overwork.
Some days I took off a light switch cover. Some days I removed a hundred pounds of old plaster, bagged it, and took it outside to my disposal pile.
Some days I retyped a one-page scene. Some days I transcribed twenty pages of manuscript and edited out another ten pages.
As September draws to a close, I have a renovation project that’s very close to the end of the demolition phase, with less than a week to go. The first-draft manuscript that was spilling off my desk is now one-third of its original size, shrinking a bit every day. There’s a very real possibility that if I had not put myself to this challenge, nothing would have changed. An “all-or-nothing” approach probably would have given me nothing rather than all.
Small efforts work. They work very well, because small efforts create small changes that add up to bigger ones. They definitely work better than grandiose ambitions that are waiting for that perfect moment to act. Better to use all those imperfect moments, because there are a lot more of them.