The Importance of Early Wins
You would think after going viral last week that I’d be looking good today. Nope. This is how I look.
On Saturday, I competed in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament. I had competed in one in October, but I did not do well. Only 10 minutes at that tournament proved I had a long way to go. So I entered this weekend with clearer goals.
I had three matches, but that injury happened in the first one. In the first 30 seconds, my opponent’s knee hit my face, and I was dazed. Throughout most of the match, it felt like I had not improved since October. I worried I was going to go home disappointed again. But I kept fighting, and then I saw an opportunity. I grabbed his arm, spun around, and hyperextended it with my hips.
I won the match.
It is hard to understate the importance of that win. I was convinced that I hadn’t improved in my last four months. 15 seconds later, I was convinced I could win the tournament.
Early Wins in Work
I've noticed a similar effect in my work. Sometimes I have projects that look like my jiu jitsu opponents. They're big, threatening, and it feels like I'll never be able to take them down. So the same principle applies. When I can get an early win, there's momentum that carries me to the next part.
Just the other week, I had a string of wins that propelled my work through the week. I went on a quest for data, and I got it. Big win. Next, I analyzed the data. Another win, which gave me the energy to move to my next challenge. Writing. But I felt confident I could do it because of the momentum I had. By the end of the week, my wife could not believe how much time I had spent on the paper. Usually I'm dragging my feet, but because I had some early wins, I was eager to spend any minute of free time on it.
Not every week can be like that. But you can get close by setting easily achievable goals that will give you an early win. The next week, that same paper had lost momentum. I wasn't in the exciting part of discovery anymore. Now I needed to write about my results. And while it was fun to write the week before during the momentum, now there was a lot of inertia. So I targeted an easy win. "Describe Table 5." Not a daunting task. Took less than 20 minutes.
But I did it! And the momentum began. I realized that there was another part of the paper I could fix, and since I had at least another 30 minutes until my next task, I decided to keep working on the paper. The early win propelled me.
I've seen it in other intimidating tasks. I have a list of people from my church who I need to call to check in on. It's a friendly call, but it's still scary. So instead of writing "Call list" I set a goal of "Call at least one person on the list." That's reasonable. I make that first call, and I enjoy it! Then I realize I can make another call. The momentum carries me through the list.
If you’re looking for a way to marginally increase your productivity, I recommend setting yourself up for early wins. I guess this is another example of why economists need jiu jitsu.