I regularly tout the importance of intentional living—of practicing mindfulness, setting goals, and deconstructing them into small repeatable steps, leaning on the power of habit rather than raw, continuous willpower.
Underpinning this process is an important truth: many small improvements accrue into large changes over time.
We're taking advantage of this by deconstructing a large goal into concrete deliverables, the production of which is broken down into roughly uniform bits of work that can be repeated on a regular cadence. Over time, it becomes easier and easier to do these bits of work.
But there's another important part of the process that can be applied independently from habit formation. Over time, as the task get easier and easier, you may find that you can get just a little more done in the same amount of time. Gains in proficiency lead to gains in output.
But this mindset of doing just a little more can apply outside of habit formation. In most of the tasks we do day to day, the amount of effort required to do a thing is front-loaded. There's a fixed upfront cost. Many times, this cost is simply one of context-switching—the time and mental energy it takes to fully engage with the specific task.
Once attuned, the actual amount of effort it takes to do N things versus N + 1 things is usually quite small.
But in a world of constant distraction and compulsive phone-checking, we tend to fill the gaps between tasks with meaningless nothings—checking Facebook and e-mail, browsing the Internet, chatting with friends. We've filled these gaps so full they create a purely artificial pressure on the time allotted for actual work.
This pressure makes it easy for us to dismiss that N + 1 task. But that N + 1 is where magic is.
Look at the top producers you know. Really look.
How much of it is because they're actually smarter than others around them?
How much of it is because they work longer hours than everyone else?
And how much of it is because they approach each task with purpose, clarity, focus, and determination, and look for every opportunity to do just a little more, whether it's checking just one more item off the list every day, or taking a moment to improve the way something is done, or doing just a little more upfront investigation to prevent wasted work later, or diving a little deeper into the way something works?
This approach requires no super-human intelligence or dramatic sacrifice. It simply requires a shift in thinking, and consistent application over time.
This is at the center of my morning manta.
"I live intentionally. I approach each task with purpose, clarity, focus, and determination. I look for opportunities to improve my reality."
Every day, I try to do just a little more.
Do just a little more.