Incremental Living in 2012 (word of the year proved to be a success)

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I've done that sort of thing in my life, … ”Steve Jobs

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, …” Steve Jobs

Choosing incremental as my word for 2012 was one of my year’s better choices. It is time to trust I’ve learned it well enough to move on.

The past four months, I’ve accomplished a single task almost daily from my mental list marked I-don’t-want-to-do-this. I pressed on to finish projects instead of stopping short of my day’s goal. I quit talking about why I struggle to achieve what I set out to do and began accomplishing it.

None of this was as conscious as I’d like, but still, it happened.

In retrospect, three steps helped.

First, I wrote what I wanted to undertake (or what I didn’t want to undertake, but knew I should) on a piece of paper and, instead of writing dozens of run on ideas, I numbered each job as a separate item.

Second, I left white space in between so the list didn’t appear overwhelming. The unmarked area between goals kept me from being tempted to clump together two tasks in one day. I thought about a newspaper editor explaining white space and how it made print appear reader friendly. I’m visual and white space made my list appear doer friendly.

Third, I assured myself I’d deem my time productive if I accomplished one item daily, instead of attempting a flurry of nine or ten and completing none.

Several times I skipped ahead and completed two or three tasks. It was okay to overdo my list as long as I was careful not to dishonor the agreement I made; one accomplishment a day was enough.

My resolution reminded me of the frustration I felt years ago when my husband completed a job. He would do the simplest thing like take down a door that was catching on carpet. He’d cut an inch off the bottom, paint the door, and rehang it, then admire his work and take a nap.

I wondered how he could be happy accomplishing so little. That was, until I noticed he finished 15 projects to my one.

Long to-do lists and long work hours tend to be paralyzing, not productive.

Rachelle Gardner, in her post “Success in 90-Minute Increments” (based on Tony Schwartz’s book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working), encourages what I’ve practiced. It was timely at the end of November to see 2012’s word mentioned in one of her titles. She offers advice for breaking down work into manageable portions.

  • 90 minutes is the optimum high-focus work time; and
  • a maximum of three 90-minute focused periods a day provides for the most productivity.

What’s the final word on your goals and/or your word for the year? Were you successful in 2012 or are you looking forward to putting this year behind you?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – “Never perfect, always better” comes to mind when I think of incremental living. I’m appreciative to all my encouragers. I throve (I like that word) because of your help.

On the side:  Rachelle also shared a link to Schwartz’s article “The 90-Minute Solution: How Building in Periods of Renewal Can Change Your Work and Your Life.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for 2013’s word and be prepared to share yours.


10 responses »

  1. This was interesting and helpful. My hubby and I are both disabled plus I’m homebound. I like the idea of leaving space in between the items on a to do list. We’ve given up writing a to do list. Mine is a mental to do list. Since I have limited time and energy I get up each day with one chore on my mind to do as I know if I have the stamina that’s all I’ll be able to accomplish. It might be taking a shower, doing the dishes or laundry, things I used to take for granted. At the end of each day I thank God if I’m able to do that task and if not I still thank Him for the blessings of the day. I also pray for the energy to accomplish my one thing I want to do the next day. My husband and I are like the tortoise, we’re slow and steady, but we do make progress. Blessings and Happy New Year, Susan Fryman

    • Susan, I so appreciate your comments. You’re right, many of us take our health and energy for granted until we don’t have them. I like the idea of applying “one thing a day” to something as simple as chores and your daily routine … it makes life more manageable. I’m not sure why we overwhelm ourselves like we do, but that’s great advice.

      Thanks for being a blessing to me, my blog and all its readers.

  2. Kim
    Whatever works for you is fine. I find that I usually do short time tasks ( clean my shoes before I put them on, or prepare the coffee pot for tomorrow morning as soon as I notice it) or as soon as possible. This keeps my daily lists short.
    Secondly I limit my list to only the things I want to accomplish today keeping in mind that I do not have to do these things if I choose. Today’s list is almost always doable.

    Future appointments and tasks are placed on my computer calendar as a reminder that when the day for action comes it goes on my daily list.
    This method which I developed through T&E works for me. I try to keep in mind that the list is not in charge. I am. I can change the list anytime I choose.

    As for resolutions I offer this
    “I like to start every New Year with a resolution that I really can achieve. I recently read that there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. Therefore, overweight is now the average. So I have already met my New Year’s resolution!


    • Bob, as always, your comments are informative for me and other readers. I like the idea of keeping lists on your computer. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but maybe I will in 2013. First I have to master Quickbooks for John’s bookwork.

      Congratulations on your resolution. It’s nice to have that out of the way. 🙂

      Happy New Year!

  3. Sylvia Jones on January 1, 2013 at 10:37 pm said:
    Nice piece. Works not to have the list overwhelm you. We HAVE to set a date for coffee…what # on the list? LOL!!!

    skimhenson on January 2, 2013 at 1:25 am said:
    Thanks, Sylvia. We do have to get together in 2013! Pick a number. I’m adding Brickhouse right now and assigning it #7. I hope to see you next Saturday for sure.

  4. From Facebook –

    3 people like this.

    Tuesday at 10:09am · Unlike · 1

    Roslyn Tanner Evans Just thought of a new one: PURPOSE
    Tuesday at 10:10am · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Oooooh, Roslyn Tanner Evans, I like purpose! Mine is a P word also.
    Tuesday at 10:16am · Like

    Linda Saelg Calvanico this is perfect (another P) kind of reminds me of that “don’t eat the elephant all in one bite” – I think I’m going to use this word and your meaning of it for 2013 – Tony Calvanico had a good point and said if you accomplish one thing a day in a year that’s 365 things accomplished! not bad!
    Wednesday at 10:55pm · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Linda Saelg Calvanico, it really works! I didn’t start the one-thing-a-day until three or four months ago, but I’m amazed how much I accomplished. Much more than at the first of the year when I was still overwhelming myself with long to-do lists. I sti…See More
    Wednesday at 11:42pm · Like · 1

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