Matt\’s Cuppa

My take on tea, technology, and our environment

To Meet Big Challenges By Doing Small Things

Posted by telecommatt on January 2, 2008

It’s tradition that each year about this time, I go online with renewed vigor in a quest to find the best productivity tools to support me in my initiative to organize and document my life better in the new year than I did in the last. I’ve already squandered precious hours in double digits in my pursuit. So much for productivity!

While productivity doesn’t seem to be my forte so far this year, there are a handful of other commitments I’ve made to myself that I feel more confident about. There is one resolution I have made that I feel will make the biggest impact on nearly every area of my life. That is, to handle things when they are small.

I know, it sounds sort of anti-climatic. Believe me when I say that it is not! Simply put, this means that I’ve committed myself to taking care of problems when they are not yet problems. My wife is happy because it means that I pick up my socks as I take them off instead of picking them up by the arm load at the end of the week. This has ramifications in the business world as well, aside from just keeping your desk clean.

I’ll take an instance from my current work environment as an example. There is a very capable member of the administrative staff who will be leaving our office later this month. She is currently training her replacement. If I begin building a working relationship with my new coworker now, before she is on her own, it is most likely that my productivity will not be adversely affected by the transition.

If that example seems too utilitarian, (which it really is not) try this. Start your meeting notes before the meeting starts. Really. You’d be surprised at how much important information is present before anyone actually begins speaking! Get in the habit of doing this and your notes will get neater, more concise, more accurate, and more uniform little effort on your part.

Like nearly everything, there are two sides to my commitment to handle things when they are small. The obvious I’ve already covered. That is, to tackle problems before they have a chance to become big problems. The more subtle message here is that big problems must not be avoided. On the contrary, I’ve committed myself to some large challenges this year.

Handling big challenges when they are already big is daunting. That is why I decided to handle my biggies when they get small again. Large tasks are almost always made up of smaller ones, just like projects are made up of actionable items. In order to face some of the looming challenges in my life, I’ve decided to simplify them by breaking them down into smaller challenges.

One example that comes to mind is a broad commitment to living more sustainably. That’s a pretty nebulous goal. But what if I could start turning on one less lightbulb as I got ready for work in the morning?

I guess that all this started to make sense to me as I sat thinking about the ebb and flow of one year into the next. Small problems have potential to turn into big problems, but we have the potential to meet huge challenges by turning them into small ones. It’s just a question of where we choose to fight our battles.
There is a line in the Tao Te Ching, which I know I’m mis-quoting, and which I’ve always been fascinated by. In it, Lao Tzu basically says that the sage accomplishes great things with no effort. I always took this to be the meaning, to meet big challenges by doing small things.

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