Big Plans, Small Steps

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“He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him.”

– Dutch Proverb

There are many things I like about our refrigerator.

I like that the freezer is on the bottom.

I like that there are half a dozen little lights (rather than just one big bulb) scattered about, making it easy to find last night’s leftover slice of pizza.*

(*Who am I kidding, I ate it before bed. But you get the idea.)

I even like the frivolous extravagance that is the water and ice (cubed or crushed) dispensing door.

But what I like the most, without question, is the fact that the shelves and door pockets in our refrigerator are modular – you can take them in and out, quickly and individually.

Which means that for the first time since, well, maybe ever, our refrigerator is nearly always clean.

Let me explain…

The problem with our previous refrigerators, you see, was that cleaning them was an all or nothing proposition.

It was one big unit inside, which meant that you pretty much had to empty the entire thing in order to clean it.

Which pretty much meant, that you pretty much didn’t do it, pretty much at all.

Today, though, I do it all the time.

And that’s because I can just pull one shelf out, wash it off in the sink, and pop it back in.

But here’s what I’ve noticed: Once I clean one shelf, more often than not, I clean several.

Often, I end up cleaning the entire refrigerator.

Isn’t that odd? It’s the same amount of work as with the old fridge.

But somehow, just starting takes me straight through to the end.

And, since I know I can just do one little bit and walk away, I’m more likely to start.

Your Plans Are Too Big

In his book, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger ResultsStephen Guise offers the following explanation:

“A mini habit is a very small positive behavior that you force yourself to do every day; its ‘too small to fail’ nature makes it weightless, deceptively powerful, and a superior habit-building strategy.”

I’m certain that’s what’s happening with me and my fridge.

And, I’m fairly certain that’s what’s keeping you from committing to a consistent marketing plan for your professional service business.

It’s not for lack of trying.

Periodically, you and your colleagues (or, in some cases, cat) sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and start brainstorming:

Send one handwritten note each day 
Have lunch with one colleague each week 
Attend two networking meetings each month 
Write one book each year 
Launch a monthly newsletter 
Start a weekly podcast 
Blah, blah, blah

Whatever the specifics of your list, it’s too much.

Each time you pull out that piece of paper to give it another try, all you can see is an entire refrigerator that needs cleaning.

So you put your list away and do nothing. Until you look at it again … and again do nothing.

Try this instead: For any marketing activity on your list, commit to doing just one, teeny-tiny thing to move it forward … EVERY SINGLE DAY.

You can do more if you feel like it, but all you HAVE to do is that one thing.

Interested in launching a newsletter? Commit to writing 10 words a day. Every day.

Does the idea of sending daily snail mail notes sound appealing? Commit to picking up a pen and a sheet of paper and just holding them. Every day.

Are you more of a phone person? Terrific. All you have to do is pick up your phone and dial the number of someone on your list.

You don’t have to make the call, just plug in the numbers. But do it every day.

Over time, as you do more than the minimum (and you will), a small step will grow into a complete marketing activity.

Guise claims that’s how he graduated from doing just one push-up a day in 2014 to completing five marathons in five days in 2017.

And while it’s true that I just made up that marathon story, he does say that this approach has led to him working out regularly now for long periods of time.

Here’s the bottom line.

Big goals are fine, but they’re scary too.

Launching a project – of any type – is like pushing a car: the hardest part is going from zero to some movement, even if it’s just a little bit.

From there, not only does it get way easier, if you’re not really careful, it can even become enjoyable.

Try it. And let me know what happens.

Gotta go. That refrigerator isn’t going to clean itself.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite proverb, Dutch or otherwise?

  2. Is your cat a helpful brainstorming partner?

  3. What small step on a desired project/habit can you commit to, right here, right now?

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23 thoughts on “Big Plans, Small Steps

  1. Dianna Huff

    My favorite saying, which I totally cribbed from Admiral William H. McRaven, is, “If you want to change the world, make your bed.”

    I did used to make my bed, but now I make it as soon as I get out of bed. 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I guess it really is the small things!

      P.S. My all time favorite quote, for use when somebody is trying to prove a point using averages, is: “The average American has one breast and one testicle, but you don’t meet many people who fit that description.”

  2. Deanna

    Hi Michael! Can’t say it’s my favorite proverb since I’m Italian-American, but I have a longtime friend, who once told me as we were discussing ancestry, what his parents told him. “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.” Thanks for asking an obscure question that brought that funny exchange (especially if you knew him) to mind.

  3. Rusty LaGrange

    So our Museum Board is facing a huge job of rehabbing two sheds into theme rooms as a display for the public. “It’s too much for us to take on.” “We don’t have enough help.” “I have a life. ” And then one said, “We are moving way to slow and it will be years to finish these goals.” So — the “baby steps” principle was offered. Phase One: grade the plot for the shed… In other words, we are moving forward doing smaller phases to reach our big goals. It’s not that these volunteers are lazy. They just got a dose of “overwhelm” and it stifled our forward progress. The sun is out and we look forward.

    1. Tracey

      Off topic here, Rusty, but I read your comment and thought ‘call a local scout troop’. Our scouts have done a number of Eagle projects for a town museum and there is always a scout in search of a project. One of our scouts projects was a shed/playhouse rehab.

  4. Kady Hommel

    Hi Michael –
    I’m a recent and happy convert to the “small habits” M.O. – I enjoyed your refrigerator analogy … but enjoyed dreaming of a sleek, sexy, modular refrigerator even more 🙂 I just hope, for your sake, that it was not a refrigerator calamity that brought your new beauty into the house!

    Separately … re leftover pizza (*Who am I kidding, I ate it before bed. But you get the idea.) reminds me of Martha Stewart’s litany of brilliant ideas for leftover wine; again, who are we kidding about the leftover wine???

    On the marketing front, my iron-clad One Thing is to complete one Pomodoro timer’s worth of email outreach every day, no matter what. Streak intact since mid-January, onward ho.

    Thanks for an entertaining interlude –

  5. Sue D

    1. Favorite quote (heard by me from the loving adults in my life anytime I headed out the door during my adolescents)
    “Remember who you are”

    2. I don’t have a cat.

    3. Email you (it’s been on my list since Monday!)

  6. Gina Longo

    1) This ranks up there: “Wishing won’t make it happen. Hoping won’t make it happen. Only doing will make it happen.”

    2) No, but my dogs always have been. I’m a big-dog kinda gal. Big as in German Shepherds. 😉

    3) I’ve committed to going to the gym two days a week for three months before I add a day. So far, so good, after 3 weeks.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. nice one
      2. Same. Although we may have to go a bit smaller next time given our new house size.
      3. Very impressive!

  7. Reuben Swartz

    1. The real journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes. – Proust

    2. N/a

    3. I’ve been noting my #FirstCall in a slack channel with some other business owners, after realizing that I really like talking to people but sometimes find it hard to get in the groove.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. My son used to have a t-shirt that said, “Not all who wander are lost.”
      3. I love that. The added incentive of peer support along with the small step!
      Thanks for writing Reuben.

  8. Hilary Green

    I would really like to start a small freebee newspaper in my local small town as we are generally only tacked on to the end of some other town’s news, if at all.
    Todays’s newsletters was excellent as it gave me a way to begin the process, without actually finishing the research on how it can be done. So tomorrow, I will go into town and ask around for snippets from the people I know so that I can print a couple of pages and leave them in our Positive Paeroa information Hub.
    And this I can do every week.
    So, Thank you for the prompt.
    Blessings, Hilary

  9. Rusty

    Tracey suggested the Boy Scouts may wish to help with our local projects. We’re soooo smallll…. that we don’t have a troop. And even our high school kids don’t want to work for their community points for graduation.. Oh well. Something will come up.

  10. Erik

    Favorite Proverb: How lovely it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards (Spanish)

    Cats as brainstorming partners: terrible. Comfy, but terrible.

    Small step: I’m already on it. Writing a blog post every 8 days or so. Feels good!


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