The secret to getting anything done

A little bit at a time.

I know.  It sounds so obvious, so simple.  It is.  But it can be difficult to do.

I've recently noticed an uptick in my reading.  Last month I blew through eight books, and this month I'm well on my way to finishing ten, which averages to a book every three days. I didn't all of the sudden create more time in my day, so I wondered: what happened?  What changed?

This actually is not a post about reading more (I'll save that for another day) but I will run with this example.  I have always read multiple books at one time, but lately, with theGOEs looming over me, I've set minimum reading requirements for myself.  Every night, I must read a chapter or certain percentage of a title.  Otherwise, I would never finish books like the thousand-page A History of Christianity.  A chapter, I can manage.  A thousand pages?  Not so much.

Of course this strategy applies elsewhere as well.  Don't fall off the wagon, or if you do, get right back on.  Small bits add up to something big.  It's a cumulative effect.  I clean my house in small stages.  I prepare for parties by cooking dishes that freeze well up to a week beforehand.  I write papers by working backwards from my due date: if I want the 20-page paper done in five days, I must write four pages a day, building in an extra day for editing; in three days, seven pages per day. 

The small steps I set for myself minimize my dread in approaching the tasks.  The time that it takes for me to talk myself into reading a one thousand-page historical volume may be used instead to already complete a chapter and push me along my way.  Instead of worrying about how I can make 60 servings of chili, three pans of cornbread, several batches of fudge, salad, and guacamole for a party, and make sure my house is sparkling clean, I bake a tray of fudge, wrap it up, and place it in the freezer.  The next day brings the next step, and I can wait to worry or dread or fear tomorrow.  But in the immediate moment, I take baby steps.

The trick is, and trouble threatens, in convincing yourself that the small step actually is vitally important.  It won't be that big of a deal if I skip reading just this one night.  I don't need to start addressing Christmas cards quite yet.  My work project can wait another day--it's only an outline.  I can do that practically in my sleep!  When you get too far behind, it feels nearly impossible to recover.  The advice is not dissimilar from diet wisdom, no?  One failure must not derail you.  The sum of all days matters more than any one particular day.

That's why last night, even though it was Friday, even though the weekend was looming large, I read my systematic theology and began our holiday shopping.  Because I knew today, I would be glad.