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Last Updated on December 4, 2017

The Power of Small

The Power of Small

You’ve decided to take on an extravagant vacation over the winter break. But simply deciding to take a trip isn’t enough to actually make it wonderful.

To have a wonder trip, it involves a bunch of small decisions: How do you decide on the perfect destination? When should you travel? Where to stay? What adventures and excursions should you try?

Let’s use Henry Ford’s car business to illustrate how this process works. Most people believe that Ford’s decision to mass produce the Model T is the lynch pin in his success. However, what we fail to see are all the tiny decisions added together that produce a large result.

    Here are the smaller more significant decisions Ford made that made mass producing the Model T the success it was:

    • He reduce the standard workday from nine hours to eight.
    • He doubled the workers pay

    These two decisions alone reduce employee turnover from 370 percent to just 16 percent. And even though he reduced the workday by an hour productivity rose from 40 percent to 70 percent. His decision to focus on employee moral and invest in and improve the lives of his workers made him the world’s greatest automobile maker and a billionaire. This was after he reduced the price of the Model T from $800 to $350 over a nine year span.

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    All these actions, reducing the amount of hours worked per day, doubling their pay and lowering the retail price of the car seem counterintuitive and should have made him lose money. But by making a few smaller decisions that really matter led to the overall decision of mass production a smashing success.

    Don’t we naturally think that bigger is better?

    Research shows that the human brain is hard-wired for efficiency.[1] It seeks and finds the most efficient and energy saving method to do everything. So if possible, our brain would desperately want to just make one big decision that will be beneficial for once and for ever.

    Conscientiously, you are unable to comprehend and understand the process our brain undergoes to do the smallest tasks. You are only aware of larger tasks and processes which are an aggregate of millions of tiny decisions your brain undergoes every second.

    This process and logic should be applied to larger decisions that must be made. You must make multiple small decisions to reach the big one.

      Big is a burden

      There is a reason that big decisions are too hard to make. When you try to make a big decision, you expend a lot of time working and reworking an idea. You try to perfect it. You try to view it from all angles and try to avoid all negative consequences.

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      Aiming for the perfect solution can actually delay and hinder the decision-making process. Very few decisions are perfect without any negative consequences. Striving for a no-consequence solution can lead to you not making a decision at all. And when no decision’s made, nothing’s executed, and nothing gets accomplished.

      Big decisions are also very hard to change. Once you’ve made a big decision, it’s harder to go back and change what’s been done. When you hang you all your hopes on one big decision, you are setting yourself up for a big success or a huge disaster.

      The greater the risk, the greater the consequence. A bad decision can alter your future, ruin your business, cost you money or even a relationship. And when you expend copious amounts of time and effort in making such a large decision, you are more apt to be blind to the fact that your decision was a poor one.

        You’ll stick with it and defend it. You are less likely to change your course which can end up costing you even more time, energy and resources. It’s hard to cut your losses when you make a huge decision.

        Small is big

        You’ve heard less is more, what about small is big? Most successes are not the result of one big decision. Instead, success is constructed from a slew of tiny decisions. Smaller decisions are more flexible.

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        Making smaller decisions also allows you to mitigate risks. You don’t usually make a huge mistake from smaller decisions. Good small decisions create small wins. One small win leads to another and another. They form a chain of good decision-making.

        Big decisions are burdensome and heavy. You are more apt to put off making a decision when a big looming consequence is hanging threateningly over your head. Breaking a decision down into pieces and steps makes the process easier and much less daunting. You progress quicker and build confidence.

        If you decide to to change your lifestyle and eat healthy, it’s better to start by deciding which small actions to integrate into your lifestyle first. In lieu of going completely vegan all at once you may want to start by drinking one more bottle of water per day and replace your normal, unhealthy snacks with fruit.

        If you completely change your entire lifestyle all at once, you will become discouraged. And when you do, it’s hard to shake it off and keep going. However, adapting to drinking more water and eating healthier snacks is easier to adjust and stick to. When you become demotivated and fall off the wagon, it is so much easier to get back up and resume. The risk of failure is smaller which is far less burdensome than trying to cut all meat, dairy and eggs out of your diet in one swoop.

          From bricks to walls

          When you are faced with having to make a big decision, break it down into bite sized chunks.

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          • Think about of the smaller components of this decision.
          • Determine what steps you need to take and what resources you need.

          Make small decisions about these things first. Each small decision adds to the larger one and before you know it, you’ve reached your intended goal.

          Think about Henry Ford and the small adjustments he made. By using the process of small decisions, he changed the entire manufacturing industry forever, impacted the lives of his workers, made the Model T affordable for the common man and became a billionaire during the process.

          Make your big decisions one small decision at a time.

          Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Leon Ho

          Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on July 19, 2018

          What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

          What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

          If you have so many things to do that you often find yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff, you’re certainly not alone. Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions.[1]

          What about the rest of the population? What do they do to prevent procrastination?

          In this article, I am going to explain to you why procrastination is so difficult to beat and how you can stop procrastinating once and for all by following a step-by-step guide. But first, you need to understand how procrastination happens.

          What is procrastination

          Piers Steel, the author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, defines procrastination in this way:[2]

          “Procrastination is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

          In other words, procrastination is doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones. The end result is that important tasks are put off to a later time.

          This comic is one of the typical examples of procrastination:

            Why stopping procrastination is difficult

            Human beings have limited self-control. Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida State University, has been studying self-control and he has found that just like any muscles, human’s self-control is a limited resource that can quickly become exhausted.[3] When self-control is close to being depleted, human tend to choose what’s more pleasurable– the immediate procrastinated tasks instead of the actual works.

            At its core, procrastination is an avoidance strategy. Procrastinators choose to do something else instead of doing what they need to do because it’s much easier to choose pleasure over pain.

            In short, procrastination is so difficult to beat because it is a battle against human’s natural enemy, a human weakness that is in-born.

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            A step-by-step guide to stop procrastinating

            Despite the fact that it’s human nature to seek for immediate rewards and procrastinate, here I have a step-by-step guide for you to follow so as to stop procrastinating.

            1. Identify your triggers: the 5 types of procrastinator

            Identifying the type of procrastination you personally experience is an essential step for you to fix the problem at its root.

            Take a look at this flowchart here to find out what type of procrastinator you are:

              Which type of procrastinator are you? Let’s take a look at the triggers for your procrastination type:

              Perfectionist

              Being perfect is the pleasure perfectionists want. But often this leads to them being too scared to show any imperfections. Because of this, they frequently fail to complete things, as they’re forever seeking the perfect timing or approach. Tasks end up never being completed, because in the eyes of the perfectionist, things are never perfect enough.

              Instead of finishing something, perfectionists get caught up in a never-ending cycle of additions, edits, and deletions.

              Ostrich

              An ostrich prefers to stay in the dreaming stage. That way, they don’t have to work for real, or deal with any negativity or stress.

              Dreaming gives this type of people a false sense of achievement, as in their minds, they envision big, ambitious plans. Unfortunately for them, these plans will most likely stay as dreams, and they’ll never accomplish anything truly worthwhile.

              Self-saboteur

              A self-saboteur has bought into the line that ‘by doing nothing, bad things won’t happen.’

              In reality, self-saboteurs have developed a fear of making mistakes or doing anything wrong. Their way to avoid these mishaps, is to do nothing at all. In the end, they may make few mistakes – but they also see few accomplishments.

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              Daredevil

              Daredevils are those who believe that deadlines can push them to do better. Instead of having a schedule to complete their work – they prefer to enjoy time doing their own thing before the deadline comes around.

              It’s most likely an unconscious thing, but daredevils evidently believe that starting early will sacrifice their time for pleasure. This is reinforced in their minds and feelings, by the many times they manage to get away with burning the midnight oil. Often they sacrifice the quality of their work because of rushing it.

              Chicken

              Chickens lack the ability to prioritize their work. They do what they feel like they should do, rather than thinking through what they really need to do.

              Prioritizing tasks is a step that takes extra time, so chicken will feel it’s not worth it. Because of this, they usually end up doing a lot of effortless tasks that don’t contribute much to a project. They’re incessantly busy on low-impact tasks, but seem oblivious to urgent, high-impact tasks.

              2. Face your triggers and get rid of them

              Whether it’s fear of failure, overwhelming feelings, avoidance or convincing yourself you’re just too busy to get something done, you can improve your ability to be productive by eliminating your procrastination triggers.

              For Perfectionists, re-clarify your goals.

              Much of the time procrastination tendencies form simply because we’ve outgrown our goals. We’re ever-changing and so are our wants in life. Try looking over your goals and ask yourself if they’re still what you want.

              Take time out to regroup and ask yourself what you really want to achieve:

              • What steps do you need to take?
              • Is what you’re currently doing reflecting what you want?
              • What do you need to change?

              Write things down, scribble them out and rewrite.

              For Ostriches, do the difficult tasks first.

              Even if you feel you’re not a morning person, the beginning of the day is when your brain is most productive. Use this window of time to get the more difficult stuff done.

              If you leave your difficult tasks to later, you’re much more likely to put it off because you’re tired and lack motivation.

              Finishing lots of simple tasks at the beginning of the day such as reading all the new emails only gives you a false sense of being productive.

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              For Self-saboteurs, write out a to-do (and a not–to-do) list each day.

              Writing things down is powerful and psychologically increases your need to get things done.

              Each day, make a habit of creating a list of the tasks you know you’ll try and avoid. By doing this, it brings these ‘difficult’ tasks to your mind’s attention instead of keeping them locked away somewhere in your avoidance mode.

              Remember, think how satisfying and productive it feels to cross of a completed task.

              For Daredevils, create a timeline with deadlines.

              It’s common to have a deadline for a goal which seems like a good idea. But this is basically an open invitation for procrastination.

              If it’s a self-created deadline with no pressure, we tend to justify pushing it back each time it comes into sight and feel we haven’t yet done ‘enough’ to get there.

              Create a bigger timeline then within that, establish deadlines along the way. The beauty of this comes when each deadline completion is dependent on the next. It keeps you on track and keeps you accountable for being in alignment with the overall timeline.

              For Chickens, break tasks into bite-sized pieces.

              A lot of the time procrastination comes from overwhelming thoughts.

              If something feels too big to tackle and we don’t know where to start, it feels like a struggle. This is also true if our goal is too vague and lacking direction.

              Break down larger tasks into smaller ones and turn them into daily or weekly goals. Smaller steps may seem like the slower approach to achieving a goal, but it often leads you much more quickly to where you want to be due to the powerful momentum you get going.

              3. Take planned breaks

              The human brain isn’t designed to work continuously on the same task and this could be a reason for procrastination.

              Make sure you take regular, structured breaks away from your task so that you can come back refreshed and ready to be more productive.

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              A break as short as 5 minutes is enough to keep your mind sharp and wards off fatigue. I recommend you to use the Pomodoro Time Tracker. It is a great tool to help you take breaks at set intervals. Simply start the 25-minute timer, and follow the prompts.

                4.  Reward yourself

                It’s important to acknowledge and reward yourself for achieving even the small tasks. It creates a sense of motivation and releases those feel-good, productive emotions that spur you on to achieve even more.

                Make your reward proportional to the task you completed so getting a bite-sized task done gets you a cup of your favourite coffee or snack. Then plan a weekend away or fun activity for the bigger stuff.

                Personally I try to make staying focus more fun by using the app Forest. It turns productivity into a game. In the game, you can plant a virtual tree at the beginning of your work time. If you maintain focus for the duration of the timer, you’ll grow a tree to add to your forest. It’s rewarding when you can eventually grow a forest.

                  5. Keep track of your time in a smart way

                  If you want to prevent the bad habit of procrastination from coming back, keep track of the time you spend every day.

                  By having a clear idea of where you spend your time, you can always review your productivity and know which areas to improve.

                  It’s not easy to keep track of every minute you spend throughout the day so I recommend you to use the app Rescue Time.

                  It gets you a categorized breakdown of how you spend your time and helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task. You can even label activities as productive and non-productive so as to block your biggest distractions.

                    Make procrastination under your control

                    Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourself what these triggers are.

                    Understanding what procrastination really is and the source of your avoidance tendencies is important in moving them out of the way and help you start the productivity momentum.

                    Reference

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