Advice for the Next Decade

Friday is the first day not just of a new year, but of a new decade. It makes sense to do some reflection in light of this, and to make some changes.

To help serve your efforts, I’m going to recommend one simple change for the next decade: Create one new, recurring routine in an area of high impact.

The way to make sure you actually stick to this routine is to set aside time for it. Which means: Create an appointment on your calendar for this routine and set it to repeat every week or every day. Then, keep the appointment.

After one year — let alone ten — you will see remarkable results.

Some obvious examples here might be prayer and Bible study, if you have a hard time being as consistent as you want. Another example could be weekly time for writing, or weekly (or daily) time for reading.

The time you allocate need not be extensive. The real impact in this comes from consistency over time, rather than quantity in the moment. Reading for half an hour each night, consistently, over the course of a year would yield significant returns. So would spending two hours every Saturday morning writing on important issues in your field, or in any area of interest. Or taking each of your kids out for one-on-one time once a month.

As it has been often said, “small things, done consistently over time, make a big impact.”

Now, for those who want to go a bit deeper, here’s a twist: this can work against us, as well — even in the case of good routines. When the good things we do consistently over time take time away from doing better things consistently over time, they diminish our effectiveness.

Hence, for those interested in taking things to the “advanced” level, a corollary to my advice here is to also identify one routine you can stop doing, or reduce, in order to make room for this more important routine.

The significance of both sides here — the impact of doing small things consistently, and the need to make sure that these small things are the best use of our time — has stood out to me even more of late as I’ve looked back on one particular routine of my own that I’m changing up.

Back in 1999, at the beginning of this decade, I started tracking our finances in Quicken. Eventually this turned into a routine of managing our finances and tracking our budget every Saturday morning. A few years later I read David Allen, and this time naturally expanded to include processing my inbox (personal, not work) and doing other household, administrative, and “getting things done” maintenance stuff.

The result is that I became quite good at dispatching with my workflow, and our credit score went off the charts. And those are things that I don’t want to lose ground on. But I wonder if, at the same time, this has crowded out some more important things I could have been doing in that time slot.

In one sense, this type of routine is driven by necessity and is quite efficient — you have to deal with both workflow and finances, and it makes a ton of sense to have a regular routine for dispatching these things. That is not something that should change.

But, I’m changing up this routine a bit to reflect more fully the fact that these things are not close to the “impact line” (for lack of a better term). They are essential, but they are supporting disciplines. You do need to spend time on them, but you want to keep it to a minimum.

The world of work provides a good example here. If you work at a for-profit, you want as much of your time as possible to be spent on tasks that are close to the revenue line. Likewise, in life you want as much of your time as possible to be spent on tasks that are close to the impact line.

Now, managing my workflow and keeping up with the finances hasn’t been taking a ton of time on my Saturday mornings (except when I have to skip a few weeks in a row!). But I still think to myself “if these tasks became so easy and basic simply by doing them consistently, how much progress would I have made if I had devoted some of that time each week to making progress on some additional things that were of greater impact?” I’ve already designated that time for work-type stuff (on the personal front), so why not redouble my efforts to preserve the bulk of that time for higher impact things?

I’d rather spend time getting some extra writing done, or staying in touch with a few more people, than becoming flawless at keeping up with my inbox. Not that you have to ultimately choose — I am not advocating that we not keep up with our workflow. Not keeping up with your workflow is like not taking out the trash — it will end up just getting in the way and mucking everything up. Part of my point, as always, is that we need to be as efficient as we can at our workflow processes so that we can spend as much time as possible on what is most important.

But my fuller point here is that what you actually schedule will have more impact than what you simply intend. This works on both fronts. First, it means that if you simply create a recurring appointment to do something of great importance, you will find great results over time. And second, it means that you need to make sure that the routines you create really advance your most important priorities, rather than simply things that are good but not best.

Therefore, be intentional in leveraging the fact that small things, done consistently over time, have a large impact. Create a new routine in an area of high impact for the new decade and, if necessary, reduce or eliminate something else to make room for it.

December 29, 2009 | Filed Under Productivity | 3 Comments 

Comments

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  • Andrew

    Matt, this reminds me a bit of Jim Collins’ analogy of spinning the giant fly-wheel. Hard to turn, and very difficult to get started, but once set in motion it is very hard to stop and requires much less effort to maintain. I’ve always wondered about remapping/adapting many of his principles over into the realm of our family. Thanks for the article,

    Andrew