The Chinese proverb counsels, “a journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”
It pictures a massive journey. A thousand miles stretch from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. Few would consider filling up the gas tank and drive the whole distance. Most would find places to stop. They break the trip into steps.
When our daughter lived in North Carolina, we would make a car trip to see her at least once a year. It is an 18-hour drive. While you could make the trip in a day with enough expresso shots and energy drinks, it is not advisable. Instead, we stopped along the way.
We would drive I-30 to Little Rock. We would stop and get out. We would exit onto I-40 and drive to Memphis and get out. Our final leg on day one was to Nashville where we stayed the night. Then, the next morning, we would trek back out, stopping at Knoxville for lunch.
We knew some fundamental truths.
First, our capacities for long trips is limited to smaller chunks. We cannot cover all those miles at one time.
Second, it was nice to see the scenery. When you push, you miss life.
This little travelogue is not about taking a road trip through the Smoky Mountains. It is about the power of the process.
We work best when we work as part of a process.
A process is a series of steps that leads to an ultimate destination. Like a trip, it breaks tasks into manageable slices.
One of the difficulties I face is writing.
Someone has said, “Everyone wishes to have written. Few write.” That truth appears in my mirror every morning in the shape of my personage.
I am one of those who say, “I really need to write today.” Vaguries infect that wish. There is not a time specified, a topic clarified, or a destination defined.
What exactly do I mean, “I need to write?”
Inevitably, I would come to the end of the day and realize I did not write a word. I would kick myself and promise to do better tomorrow. I am an effective liar when it comes to myself.
What I needed was a process, and I found one.
First, the what. I never knew what to write about. I sat at my laptop, waiting for the bolt of inspiration to hit me on high. The problem is writers cannot find a medium to conjure up inspiration from the dead. Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
I needed to find the club. It came in the form of my weekly review. In it, I review my life for the last week and plan for the next. Why not plan writing topics like my tasks? I make a list of six or seven things to walk across the blank page in the next week.
It removed the decision making from the task.
Second, the how.
Nothing teases and shames you as much as a white screen and a flashing cursor. You blow on your fingers, expect them to open like Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders to let the words flow.
How much to write? Everything! Complete it! Choke it down!
Anyone without a stopping place will never start.
I found a website that became my assistant whispering, “you are almost there.” The site is called 750words.com. (In fact, I am writing this on the site now.)
The genius is in the bull’s eye. 750 words per day. Checkboxes at the top make it clear whether you hit the word target of 750 or fell short.
You either write 750 words or not. Just do it.
Third, the when.
I always would defer writing to the end of the day. That was the worst possible time. My mind was mush, and willpower muscle grew flaccid. On top of that, “something” would conveniently “come up.” It gave me the excuse not to write. After all, I’m busy.
Instead, I decided to do it first. I go to a coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee, lift the lid on my laptop. I look in my planner for the topic for the day and fingers stroke the keys.
My mind is fresh. Interruptions and excuses evaporate with the morning dew.
Since I started, I have written every day. I keep the chain moving.
I have discovered several benefits of a process.
First, I can relax. I don’t have to do it all. Just a little, just enough.
Second, I can plan. Someset Maugham observed, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” With a plan, my inspiration shows up at the right time. It’s when I am forced to write 750 words.
Third, I am more productive. As the hare lost to the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, slow and sure wins the race.
Whatever the overwhelming issue in your life, you can develop a process. Take the trip of a thousand miles but do it one step at a time.