I was listening to Tim Ferris one day talking about productivity and setting small goals. He was talking about how writing a book is a grind for him, and he set the small goal of writing “two crappy pages” a day. Some days he would only write the two pages, but very often, after getting started, he would blow past that least acceptable very low bar and write many (presumably good) pages.
He mentioned in passing it was like just flossing one tooth a day.
This caught my attention because despise flossing. I know I should. And I know of some weirdos who actually enjoy brushing and flossing their teeth. For me, there are other things I’d rather be doing for two minutes twice a day.
But as an adult I am more than mature and capable of managing my own dental hygiene. I am, honest! But it’s a struggle. It got to the point where my dental hygienist had left a note in my file about how I was sensitive to the issue. I learned this when a new hygienist asked me about the note.
“Good morning, Mr. May. I`ll be cleaning your teeth today. I see here you don’t like flossing your teeth and you don’t want to talk about it.”
[Internal Dialog: “I’m fine, thanks for asking. Or at least I was until you shared that with me. Please don’t show my how to floss my teeth for the 1000th time. I’m a god-dammed grow-up. I know how to floss my teeth. No, I don’t need one of those little plastic helpers. I’m a grown-up, really!”]
I thought I’d test Mr. Ferris’ “floss one tooth” rule, and that’s what I started doing. Every morning, after I brushed my teeth and before I got in the shower. I would floss at least one tooth. If nothing else, it was enough time to let the shower warm up. And honestly, most mornings, I did only floss one tooth. The bottom front one, specifically.
Lo and behold, the next time I visited my hygienist, she complemented me on how well I was flossing my teeth. This surprised me. I had passive-aggressively done as bad a job as I could get away with, rarely flossing my whole mouth and mostly just sticking to that one tooth at the bottom front. Apparently attempting a minimal effort every day is better than not making any effort at all. This pleased me, and have now expanded my tooth flossing program to two teeth a day. I’m hoping for even better results on my next visit!
If we’re trying to get better at something, like being a better leader, it seems that getting started and doing even the smallest thing consistently, is better better than not.