I am an optimizer. I try to optimize nearly everything in my life. This, I think, is why I tend to spend so much time on personal productivity, time management and other personal optimization techniques.
My theory, which should be an undercurrent of your thinking, was that often times we pick goals that are too large and fail because of our lack of perceived progress. If we choose small aspects of our lives to improve upon we will see our progress more quickly which will tighten the positive feedback loop to increase the likelihood that we will attempt an improvement project again.
Obviously this is nothing new, there are a million self help people out there that say to set small attainable goals for maximum success. However my breakthrough came when I realized these don't have to be major goals, they can be something that can be done in an afternoon.
A formal version of my improvement cycle is something like this:
- Selection - Pick what needs to be improved
- Why does this need to be improved? This is usually the primary driver. Try to select attainable reasons here, “I want to get in shape” isn't as good as “I want to run a 10k in under an hour”
- How much time or energy do you expect to gain by the improvement? If the primary goal of this exercise is to give you more time for other things, how much do you realistically expect to gain from this improvement?
- What else do you expect to gain by this improvement? Boiling everything down to time and energy improvements is an easy way to lose sight of all of the other important things in your life. Think about all the other reasons to improve yourself here.
- How much improvement is necessary? - Don't get caught up in trying to make this aspect of your life perfect, just think about “better than before”
- How much time do you expect this to take? Having a good estimation of how long this should take will help you see when this is working or when it's time to abandon this new technique.
- Trial - Begin using the new technique. Commit to it. We often jump to the assessment phase and decide our trial has failed before the new technique has had a chance to sink in. Choosing small things to improve can reduce this barrier, but it is still something we need to be aware of.
- Assessment - You will naturally assess the changes during the trial phase. This is OK, but it is also important to have a moment of self reflection. This is the time when the changes and improvements can really sink in. Above all else it is important to know yourself and what is important and successful in your own life. Even if you choose to expose something else to other people, always know what you truly want. If you expose the same truth to other people that is even better! You'll get to that point through careful self reflection and assessment.
- Based on our questions above has this change improved your life?
- Was your estimation correct?
- Integration - If this is something that you've decided should be integrated into your life as an improvement (the assessment was positive).
Reflect on the success - This could be the most important piece of the puzzle. It is imperative you reflect on your success. Often times we spend too much time thinking about all of the things that have gone poorly, or that we could have done better. This is a success, look back at your work and let it sink in. Once you realize that you brought about this change through your own action you will be more likely to stick with the positive behavior.
It is important to note that I jump into the trial stage very quickly, sometimes completely skipping over the selection phase. Often times it makes more sense to simply try new things out and see if they work rather than having a ridged process. This brings me to a future blog topic of failing quickly. Identify what is not working, don't think of it as a failure, simply think of it as an experiment that you can learn from. Not every incremental improvement will actually improve your life.
Remember this cycle: Selection -> Trial -> Assessment -> Integration. Work to tighten the loop of trial and assessment to be as small as possible to understand when to fail fast or to move on to the integration quickly.
Posted By: Joe Basirico