Gain Momentum, Go Small!

Life can quickly stagnate without some momentum (and where’s the adventure in stagnation?).  You might have big ideas, or small things that linger.  This post is for the things that can’t be done in simply two minutes or less.  It’s for the things for which you don’t want to write a project plan (a.k.a. most things).  It’s for things in your personal life.  It’s for things at work.  It’s definitely for that pile in the corner.

The secret?  Go small. Image from thekellyscope on Flickr

Often there’s something small that’s keeping something relatively simple from getting done.  Identifying the next thing (no matter how small) that needs to get done will give you a huge push, not to mention a sense of accomplishment.  Often projects will languish or never get done simply because no next action was identified.

To go small, there are five questions…

1)  What is my goal?

Without a goal, you won’t know when you’ve accomplished anything, big or small.  Pick a goal.  I sometimes make goals out to be a lot more than they need to — just pick one.  As best you can, make your goal something simple that inspires you.  The more you can add inspiration (whether this is for work or play), the more you are going to get done.

I’ll build out an example below throughout this post: throwing an awesome small dinner party.  For most things, once you get the hang of it, you can do all this in your head.  Which is good, otherwise it would defeat the purpose of keeping things simple.

My goal:  To throw an awesome small dinner party


2)  Why is that my goal?

What’s the meaning behind your goal?  What’s inspiring you to accomplish this goal?  This step requires a bit of thought, but don’t skip it!  To shamelessly steal from the Brits, it’s hard to “keep on keeping on” without knowing why you’re “keeping on” in the first place.  If you get stuck, keep asking yourself “why?” until you get an answer that resonates with you — you’ll know when it’s real.

Why do I want an awesome small dinner party?  After some thought, I realize it’s because I want to spend quality time with friends.

My goal:  To have an awesome small dinner party.
Why:  To spend quality time with friends.


3) What needs to be done between where I am right now and accomplishing my goal?

You have a goal and now you know why that is your goal.  Now you have the ability to work backwards and begin with the end in mind.  I recommend being ad hoc here.  Simply, what comes to mind when you are thinking about accomplishing the goal?  Don’t worry about order or size.  Often these might be barriers for you.  It’s okay, just note them, either mentally or by writing them.

It would be great for my dinner party to just magically happen.  But what needs to be done between right now and my awesome dinner party?  Some ideas come to mind:  I need to create a menu.  I need to buy food and drinks.  I need to send out invitations (and so on).

My goal:  To have an awesome small dinner party.
Why:  To spend quality time with friends.
What needs to be done:  Create a menu, buy food and drinks, send out invitations, etc


4) What is my immediate next step that is needed to move towards achieving this goal?

You know the things that stand between you and your goal.  What’s the very next step you need to do to move towards your goal?  To determine what you should do next, go back to why you are inspired to have this goal.  By looking at “Why”, you’ll be able to prioritize easier — and as a bonus, maintain motivation.

I listed three items above for the dinner party.  Next, I could either:

create a menu   OR   buy food and drinks   OR   invite people.

I know the reason I want a dinner party is to spend quality time with friends.  What’s the next step that will produce the biggest step forward?  Well, if I don’t quickly get this on people’s calendars, they won’t be able to come, so I quickly realize that inviting people is my immediate next step.

My goal:  To have an awesome small dinner party.
Why:  To spend quality time with friends.
What needs to be done:  Create a menu, buy food and drinks, send out invitations, etc
Next step:  Send out invitations


5)  Can I do it or should I go small?

If there’s nothing daunting between you and your action, do it.  (Or, if it would take more than two minutes, set aside time to do it.  And really do it at that time.)

But here’s where we often get stuck.  We know the next thing we should do.  Hopefully we have some motivation because we know why we have the goal we do.  Now it’s a matter of doing this next thing.  But there’s so many ways to procrastinate!

Even when I focus on my next step, I might find reasons not to proceed.  My next step is to send invitations.  But then I thinking about all these other things I need to decide before sending invitations.  I need to pick a time.  I need to decide if I’m going to send this on Facebook or via Evite.  I need to decide whose house I’m having this dinner party at.  And so on.

What to do?  Take the above questions and go small.  I have a new, much smaller goal: to send out invitations.  I know exactly why I want to do this — I want to throw a dinner party (and, not only that, I also know why I want to have a dinner party).  I have new (littler) things that I need to do before doing this smaller goal.

Check out my mini-version of the above:

My goal: To complete the action of sending out invitations
Why:  To have an awesome small dinner party (My original goal is informing why I’m doing this smaller action)
What needs to be done:  Pick a time, choose invitation platform (Facebook or Evite?), choose whose house to have it at
What’s my immediate next step?  If I don’t pick a time, I’m not going to have a party, regardless of how I invite people or where I want it to be.
Next step: Pick a time


Realizing the small steps to take makes the bigger steps easier.   Throwing a dinner party may seem a bit daunting, but sending out invitations is significantly less intimidating.  And if sending out invitations seems a bit much, picking a time is really pretty simple.  And if picking a time is kind of hard…. well, you get the picture.  You can make it as granular as you need in order to get movement going.

And once you have momentum, it’s amazing how quickly the dominoes will fall, and before you know it, you will have accomplished your goal.

The book Getting Things Done by David Allen has a full system for, well, getting things done.  It is incredibly comprehensive.  His work has informed this post, as I read the book awhile ago.  I do not claim to have perfected Getting Things Done.  I simply implemented the aspects that fit and discarded the rest.  One thing that stuck with me is this: if you can do it in under two minutes, do it.  I tweaked this approach when I moved into my new apartment and implemented a one-minute rule.  This is when many things truly get done — when they are quick.  And if something can’t be done quickly, I know I need to schedule time to do it.


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