How regularly screwing up can help you get stuff done.
By Brad Beckstrom
I’ve always liked taking action. Getting stuff done. A friend once told me, “The best way to fall asleep is to lay in bed and think of each thing that you did that day from beginning to end. Include the little stuff, washing your face, taking the dog out. If you’re like most people you probably do a lot of things even though at times it doesn’t feel like much. By the time you get near the end of the list, you will be asleep.” This trick didn’t work too well for me, sometimes I would lay there and think of the things I forgot to do which was a great way (not) to fall asleep. It’s okay that it failed. I was trying to do something that would help me fall asleep. I’ve learned something by trying this out, it didn’t really work, I’ll try it again, I took imperfect action.
What’s “imperfect action”? My first thought was doing something that didn’t work or trying something like a shortcut that just made the task longer. It could be something that was unproductive but got you 1% closer to reaching your goal. Maybe it wasted a good chunk of your day but you learned something from it.
Taking imperfect action is something that can help both the perfectionist and the procrastinator.
Some people are both they’ll put something off because conditions are not just right. They might put off that hike because the weather is shitty. If you catch yourself waiting for the perfect day, the perfect solution or the fastest fix then think of that as your call to action. Go out in the crappy weather, you might find out that hiking in the rain is not too bad. In the end, even if you hated it, you got outside. You got some exercise. Who cares if you had to cut it short? You’ll be back another day.
Some other ways to take imperfect action.
- Instead of buying something to fix a problem, try something you already have that could get the job done. It won’t always work but often, you’ll come across something you forgot you had.
- Try a half workout. 20 minutes max.
- Make a habit of putting your running shoes next to the bed. Think about taking a walk or run whenever you see them.
- If you’re writing, try creating a shitty first draft, use speech to text on your phone or computer, in a stream of consciousness.
- If you’re reading a book and losing interest stop reading it, maybe come back to it, much later like a year later or never.
- Randomly ask for discounts everywhere you go, you may get turned down quite a bit, but you get better at it. I’ve had success doing this with doctors, auto mechanics, waiters, cable companies, computer stores.
- Unsubscribe from one crappy email list even though you know they’ll probably start sending you stuff again in a month. Unsubscribe again. Try out an email unsubscriber like unrollme.
- Make a habit of something very simple that acts as a reminder, like a bowl of fruit that will go bad if you don’t eat some.
- At the end of the walk or run, try to go just 1% further or 1% faster.
- Wear an old piece of clothing that doesn’t match or is out of style. I found some stuff that was so old that is actually coming back into style.
- Write down the first 5 ideas that pop into your head every morning. These can be any ideas, crappy ideas, funny ideas. Just get them down.
Over time you’ll find that these small, often incomplete, or unsuccessful actions will translate into marginal gains or incremental improvements in your life. This is called the aggregation of marginal gains. For example, short 20-minute workouts have become the norm for me after I tried them out. The good news is I end up getting more workouts in than I did previously. Within those workouts, I try new things like high-intensity training or resistance training. By mixing and matching these experiments over time I have gotten better at a total body workout.
There’s even a greater opportunity for improvement when unrelated imperfect actions combine. For instance, randomly writing a stream of consciousness then pulling small ideas from that. Or small ideas that turn into experiments that later turn into habits and routines similar to the 20-minute workout I described. Give it a shot, there are gains to be made.