One at a time

Thursday night is trash night in my neck of the woods. We hauled our cans to the top of the driveway and, as we do every other week when it’s also recycling night, we hauled a few cardboard boxes up too.

We moved in June of 2011, and probably had close to a hundred boxes of stuff. We also ordered a lot of furniture and accessories that came in boxes. The empty boxes all wound up in the garage. We gave away some, but were still left with a huge pile. Every other Thursday night, it dwindles a bit. It expanded after Christmas from the Amazon boxes, and after each of the kids’ birthdays, but now has been in dwindling mode again. My guess is we’ll probably hit concrete somewhere around the beginning of the new year.

Viewed prospectively, an 18-month project like this seems dreadfully slow. On the other hand, we are making clear progress. And as we keep making clear progress, we are motivated to keep going, until eventually, looking in the rear view mirror, it won’t seem like a long process at all.

There is obviously a metaphor here for any other long project. A book is written 1000 words at a time. Write 1000 words a day, 5 days a week for 16 weeks and you will have 80,000 words. My 17 lbs of excess baby weight was lost at a rate of about half a pound a week. Half a pound per week seems like nothing for a long time. But eventually those half pounds add up to something. A marathon is trained for, and run, one mile at a time. Seth Godin posted on his blog the other day that merely doing one marketing thing a day could make a huge difference in your business. There are 200 working days a year. One marketing win per day is 200 in a year — quite a bit! Telling yourself on, say, January 1, to do 200 marketing activities would seem overwhelming. But one a day is doable, and a year is shorter than we think.

What we perceive as failure may, sometimes, be an insufficiently long view of progress. Patience is hard. But eventually it empties the garage.

What project have you taken one day at a time?

In other news: I have a piece over at Citibank’s Women & Co site on the Bedtime Math program. This email newsletter features a math problem every day for preschool and elementary school aged kids.

At CBS MoneyWatch I’m writing about 4 secrets of focused people and How smart leaders keep meetings on track. The latter features an interview with Papyrus CEO Dominique Schurman.

I enjoyed a post over at Lifehacker on how a partner in the Y Combinator incubator hid his email app on his smart phone. Net result of making it difficult to check email? The days started to seem longer and less rushed. That’s one way to slow down life.

Angela Jia Kim of Savor the Success writes about what she learned by being sued.

Kristen at The Frugal Girl asks why it’s so hard to spend money on high quality groceries. We balk at $5 watermelons but spring for fancy coffee. Or, as I’d note, we view the last $10,000 on house price negotiations as a rounding error, even though that’s $50 a month repeated for 30 years. That could pay for a lot of upscale groceries (or any other splurges). We tend to view money in context — $1000 is a lot for a coat, not a lot for a sofa — but the reality is that money is completely fungible. A dollar spent on one thing can always be spent on something else. There is no context. As Kristen points out, if you’re not living in poverty, not buying “high-priced” produce is a matter of priorities, nothing else. She’s got 120 comments going on that thesis now, so clearly some heated thoughts!

Photo courtesy flickr user A.M. Kuchling

6 thoughts on “One at a time

  1. Re: the boxes – our recycling co lets us put out as much recycling as we want without charging extra, even if it doesn’t fit in the bin. Are you sure that’s not true for yours? Also, if you have a college nearby or an active Craigslist, there are always people looking for moving boxes. You could just leave them on your curb and I bet someone would get them quickly.

    (But I’m one of those people who has to get stuff OUT if it needs to go. No lingering for me…)

    I love the Marketing angle – what a great way to look at it.

    I’ve been doing my “Operation Baby Prep” tasks this way. I’m super tired, unmotivated and HUGE right now, so if I can just get ONE thing done on my list in a whole day I consider it a success. Today it was sorting through a box of clothes from a friend. Yesterday it was the final load of baby laundry. Etc. And the stuff is getting done. If all goes on schedule I still have 11 days to go 🙂

  2. I am most definitely a slow plodder in life. My biggest one step at a time project to date has got to be renovating 3 homes in 5 years with my husband who works 50 to 60 hours a week. I stay home and homeschool our 3 children so I worked on the project early mornings when everyone else was sleeping fitting in 15 to 20 hours a week in that way while keeping up our home and schooling the kids. Now we live in one of those homes, have another on the market and rent the third and I am using those found morning hours to blog, and again I am working at it inch by inch.

  3. We Boice with most things.
    Cardboard recycling, however, is one thing we don’t because we have to take it to a separate facility as curbside does not take it.

  4. I think you have a good point here, that even though it is not glamorous, slow and steady does get the job done. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting New Yorker piece about our obsession with prodigies and a few weeks ago Kelly Oxford challenged an LA Times article that portrayed her as an instant Twitter success and not a bona fide writer. My point here is that we love stories about fast and flashy success, but real life is much more about small bits of progress.

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