HIG friend, podcast guest, and NYT columnist, Carl Richards, shared the following story about how incremental change adds up if you take the long view. Keep reading for the story behind the sketch.
The Magic of Incremental Change
Back when I lived in Las Vegas, I used to ride road bikes with a semi-competitive group of riders. I remember when I first joined the group, it felt like a big victory if I could just keep up with them for the first 15 minutes. After a while, that became the first half-hour. Then an hour. One day, almost without even noticing it, I was suddenly able to stick with the pack for the entire ride.
It felt sudden at the time, but of course, it wasn’t. And although I was surprised, nobody else was, because they had all seen it before with other riders or experienced it themselves.
This is the sneaky power of incremental change.
Each day, you make a small improvement. Then, that becomes the new normal, and you get used to it. You make a small improvement again, and then that becomes the new normal. This happens over and over, slowly but surely. We barely notice we are getting closer to our goal, and then (again, seemingly “all of a sudden”) we’re there!
I didn’t feel a lot faster because I wasn’t a lot faster… compared to yesterday or even last week. In fact, I was just a little faster than I was last month. But month after month, ride after ride, it all added up. All those little bits of “faster” started to compound on top of one another.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to riding bikes. I’ve had times in my career where I wondered if I was accomplishing anything. I specifically recall a time when I was working remotely for a large company. I got very little feedback on my work and was largely left alone. I loved the independence, but I also struggled because I had no idea if what I was doing was valued by the people I worked for.
To deal with this struggle, I started reviewing each week and noting what I had done. It felt weird at first because I didn’t want it to be seen as taking credit for things, but as the weeks added up and the list got longer, it felt good. I was doing stuff, and that stuff was making a difference, for sure.
No one else needed to see the list. It still felt good. It helped me to see, in real-time, how incremental changes add up.
If you build a process of reflecting every quarter, month, and year, you’ll never feel like you’re not accomplishing anything again. And while that may spoil some of the surprise of suddenly and unexpectedly arriving at your goal one day, I promise it will be worth it to feel much better along the way.
Here at HIG, we are passionate about service and hospitality. What does this really mean for you and your financial life? Listen to John Reagan talk about it in this short message.
A few years ago, Laura Vanderkam set out to study how 1,001 busy, successful women managed their time. Most of these women had full-time jobs, kids, and dozens of commitments. She had each of them keep a time diary for a full week—168 hours—to learn the strategies they used to keep their lives afloat.
One of the women came home on a Wednesday night to a flooded basement. Her water heater broke while she was running errands. Between calls with plumbers and coordinating a cleaning crew, the ordeal took seven hours out of her week.
“I’m sure if you had asked her at the start of the week, Could you find seven hours to train for a triathlon or mentor seven worthy people?”, she would have said what most of us would say: No. Can’t you see how busy I am?” says Vanderkam. “Yet when she had to find seven hours, she found seven hours.”
Vanderkam, whose TED talk “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” has been viewed more than five million times, points out that time is elastic. We can’t create more time, but it will stretch to accommodate what’s essential.
“The key to time management is treating our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater,” says Vanderkam.
As I write this on a dreary December day, it seems like this entire past year was like those seven days when the woman dealt with her broken water heater. Instead of feeling in control, many of us found ourselves constantly reacting—to the latest coronavirus data, to the election coverage, to the volatile stock market.
The good news is that we can recalibrate and fill our days with the things that deserve to be there. But how can we make this happen? How do we find the same sense of urgency as that woman with the broken water heater?
Laura Vanderkam has a tip.
Let’s pretend it’s December 2021. It’s been an amazing year. Ask yourself what three to five things did you accomplish that made it such a great year?
Once you’ve identified those goals, break them down into manageable, bite-sized steps and put them into your schedule first—not when you “think you’ll have time.”
By designating something as a water heater-level priority, we reduce our odds of falling off the wagon, whether that’s training for a marathon or bolstering your kids’ college savings fund.
For successful, happy people, their lives are the compound effect of how they spend their time away from work. Remember, there are 168 hours in a week. Even if you’re at the office for 60 hours and sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves 52 unscheduled hours.
“There is time,” says Laura. “Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.”
Let’s all find our broken water heaters and get to work.
We can help you set or clarify your financial priorities and help you achieve them. Want to learn how? Schedule a call with us to find out.