It’s been a while, folks, but I still have a few ideas to talk about. This one struck me while thinking about all of the competing priorities in my life right now. I’ve long been a big fan of simplifying life and clearing the clutter, but putting this into practice in everyday life isn’t always easy. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the most difficult problems we encounter each day. This is what got me searching for a great way to keep your most important projects going regardless of how busy you are: Making minimum payments.
Every day we’re bombarded with decisions about what to prioritize and making these decisions takes up a significant amount of time and energy for many of us. The large number of inputs also makes it more difficult for us to make the right decisions. Should I write this email to the boss before completing that report? Should I drop off my daughter at cheerleading practice before going to the grocery store? Will I have enough time to work out before leaving for work today?
In all of this deluge, it’s sometimes hard to cut through to what’s important. If you’ve read many of my posts over the years, it’s likely that you’ve seen me mention The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. This is with good reason as it’s probably been the single most influential book that I’ve read. One concept that I’ve found extremely useful over the years is that of scheduling time for working on the most important areas in your life. Covey recommends actually putting things on a schedule to ensure that they don’t fall by the wayside. Good examples would be scheduling an hour per week to study for the PMP exam or setting aside three thirty minute sessions per week to practice soccer goal kicks with your son. The goals are both important, one to business success and the other to personal success.
I’ve found good success with this method in my own life, but I find that I often have too many great projects that I’m unable to spend enough time on right now. Playing guitar and learning French language are two such goals that I’ve been struggling with lately. I’m unwilling to let meaningful pursuits fall by the wayside completely as doing so makes it much harder to build up the momentum to start them again. Instead, I’ve stumbled on a concept that works well for me.
Conventional wisdom is that a great deal of time is necessary to master certain skills or even become proficient. Malcom Gladwell writes in Outliers quite a bit about the 10,000 hour rule for achieving mastery in any particular subject or skill and that teaching (a basic measure of proficiency) in that area often requires something like 5,000 hours of practice or study. For busy grownups this is unrealistic. When I calculated out the time it would require for me to achieve the proficiency level in guitar playing according to this rule, it was more than 20 years! I was about to give up entirely in despair until I discarded this approach.
Tim Ferriss writes about a different view on mastering skills in his brilliant The 4-Hour Chef. He notes that great progress can be made in acquiring skills in much less time using various techniques. Without going into more depth, this inspired me to keep my own projects going by making minimum payments. Just as we can use the debt snowball to focus on paying off one debt at a time while keeping all other accounts current with minimum payments, we can keep our important projects alive while focussing the bulk of our time on projects that require more of our immediate attention.
The concept is simple: Keep the project alive by spending a tiny amount of time practicing or studying on a regular basis. My basic keep-alive increment is 5 minutes per day. The benefits to this are several. By getting that daily exposure to the subject, it helps us to retain the knowledge or skill we’ve already acquired. The minimal time available also encourages us to zero in on the activities that we will derive the most benefit from as per the 80/20 rule. Finally, there is a psychological boost to moving even a tiny bit toward a goal. The psychological benefit can have a ripple affect on other goals as it can serve as a boost to our general sense of wellbeing.
I’ve applied the minimum payment concept to my own studies of French language and guitar. So far, I’ve found that I’ve often found a little more time to practice once I’ve gotten started. After all, what’s five minutes? Everybody has five minutes to spare in their day!
I hope you find this idea as useful as I have. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know how you’ve applied the minimum payment concept in your own life.