Orange notebook laying on a wooden surface with an ipad mini covering the left side. The right side has some scribbled text and arrows in black ink. A ball point pen is laying on the open notebook.

small changes for better progress

It’s tempting at this time of year to say “I will make a big change”. Sometimes big changes are necessary and unavoidable. However, I’ve found that taking smaller incremental changes that lead to my successfully developing a new habit are better.

For example, I’ve wanted to return to writing and posting more regularly since … March. It’s now the final day of August.

While my goal was clear and desired – I struggled to meet my personal expectation.

Why?

I neglected to take into account that I didn’t only pause writing here for over a year for a valid reason. The earth kept spinning and changing. So have I.

My expectation was that I’d seamlessly slip back into writing and * poof * posts would appear with the ease they once had.

That would have been possible for the me of … early 2022.

The me of today has different experiences (and expertise). I also have obligations that influence my available time to work and focus.

After watching another month go by and feeling that August was also going to result in no writing, I pulled out lessons from a long time ago when I was first learned an instrument.

I practiced.

Practice for Muscle Memory

Say it with me: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.

Ok, I’ve never actually played there, but I was privileged with opportunities at several other venues in the NYC metro area. I didn’t jump straight into Peter and the Wolf, I began by committing scales to muscle memory. When I first began to learn an instrument, my practice sessions were short: 10 minutes a day with a longer 15 minutes the day before the lesson.

In this vein I began to practice writing.

At first I set a timer for fifteen minutes and the goal was to write whatever was in my head and get it on the page. If you’ve read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with this type of free writing. Yes, I have modified her method to what works with my obligations. It was a struggle to focus those first days and if I scribbled five lines I was content. It took less time than I expected when to write an entire page several days in a row.

I steadily increased the timer.

Today my goal is to write for either three pages or 45 minutes daily. Sometimes I can whip that out quickly and sometimes it’s a struggle to fill a page.

Work Toward the Goal

I’ve been editing this post for two weeks. I have a larger goal I want to accomplish and my writing is not yet in shape to tackle that. It’s ok. Modifying existing posts – that fit the topic I want to write about – will help tidy up my site’s content, allow me to fine tune to writing muscles, review my editing skills, and still move forward.

Has it been as easy as I expected to jump from free writing to even what editing existing posts? No.

Be Clear and Explicit in Desired Outcome

Another issue I faced was I wrote “post every two weeks” as my task. That’s … ambitious. What was I going to write about? Why? How does this fit into the whole scheme? Yes it’s a goal, but I needed something that I could actually do. “Write about making small changes and how it was still challenging” is much more specific.

Shifting expectations of what can be accomplished as well as what must be done can help projects regain momentum. When I apply this principle, my progress often far exceeds my expectations.

I’ve developed a few tips as I’ve worked on applying this concept to my own life. Here are the three I think are the most useful.

1 – Describe as if to delegate

As you describe a task (these are really micro projects), try to write as if you need to delegate it to another individual. In a way, you are. You’re delegating to your future self, the one who will complete the task, not to the self who would rather sit outside, reading and knitting/crocheting all day. For example – “Blog post” can have multiple meanings; it’s better to be as specific as possible: “Revise blog posts on small changes. See file in zettlr.”

2 – Make it shorter

If you think it will take more than about 15 minutes than break it down into smaller shorter tasks. Drawing on the example above, the list could be rewritten as:

  • Revise blog posts on small changes. See file in zettlr.
    • re-read copied text.
    • outline new draft.
    • scribble edits.
    • revise text.
    • find featured image, format text
    • republish

3 – Begin

Don’t over think how you’re going to accomplish the result; start with the tools you have.

Orange notebook laying on a wooden surface with an ipad mini covering the left side. The right side has some scribbled text and arrows in black ink. A ball point pen is laying on the open notebook.

Continuing with the previous example, I pulled up the text of the original posts and after rereading them, began scribbling my edits for a new outline in my notebook. Is it my preferred method to edit my posts? No. But that shouldn’t stop me from working toward my goal. Reminding myself to start on the task and stop finding reasons why I shouldn’t or couldn’t is how it’s shifted from neglected to completed.


I’ve found these small changes lead to small successes. These then provide momentum. Even if it’s in very small almost indiscernible increments.

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Note: This is a 2023 update of posts initially published in 2018, 2019, and 2022.