Here’s the thing about a Big Hard Task (like hiring a team or starting a new job): It is sized to intimidate. Here’s how to break down the process and to manage your expectations so you don’t get defeated.
Usually when you approach a Big Hard Task, the first thing you notice about the task is that it’s large. And the second thing you notice is that you needed it done yesterday. So you perform some mental acrobatics to determine how you’ll size and deliver an enormous solution to your Big Hard Task yesterday. Turns out, that’s overwhelming and maybe even impossible. So you lose confidence in your abilities. And you just stop trying. The Big Hard Task has defeated you.
A better way is to train your mind to think in the following manner. Remember this familiar example from the world of savings?
Let’s say you have your $100 net worth in a piggy bank. Every week you add 2% of what you had last week.
After 1 week, you’ve added 2% for a total of $102. Depressing, right? You’ll never be rich!
After 1 month, you are at $108.24. Still not lifechanging. Hmm. So you lower your expectations on ever getting rich, but you plod on with your 2% weekly contributions.
After 1 year, you check your piggy bank and...surprise! Your worth has almost tripled to $280.03! Now that’s something. Maybe it’s possible to get rich off your piggy bank after all... As all finance fiends know, this is the power of compound interest! An accumulation of incremental percentage increases yields a larger and larger absolute increase over time.
Now let’s say you have a Big Hard Task. Every week you strive to improve at it by 2% more than last week. It’s enough for you to notice but not enough for others to see. But, at least it’s a small enough ask that you can manage it.
After 1 week, you’ve given your solid 2%. No one notices of course, but you keep going.
After 1 month of working on weekly 2% improvements, you’ve improved by 8.24% in total. A few people give you a nod, but most are still skeptical.
After 1 year of trying hard to improve by 2% each week, you take a look back at where you’ve come from. You realize that the situation looks totally different. Something like 3x better than it did when you started a year ago. You hired most of the team and they’re thriving. You worked through the first 12 months of your new job and impressed your manager. Your Big Hard Task? Turns out that one year later...you did it. The trick? It’s the power of what I like to call compounding improvement. Many infinitesimal improvements accumulated over time yield impressively visible improvement.
Why can this work? It works because you break things down not just into smaller tasks but into more manageable expectations of your progress over time. You remove the pressure of the enormous solution and painfully counting down your checklist to achieving it. You replace it with a positive commitment to 2% improvement every week. By doing this, you make your Big Hard Task surmountable. You make something that feels very urgent and negative into something that feels measured and productive. And by the end of several weeks or months or even years, you’ve positioned yourself to get that Big Hard Task done while keeping your sanity and stress in check.
The 2% rule is what I am thinking about every day now. I have a Big Hard Task. I am working on transforming our approach to technology from the team, culture, product, and process level. It’s a somewhat new challenge for me and a very exciting one! That means that I am waking up every day, thinking about how I can get a little bit closer to my weekly 2% improvement goal. This method keeps me positive; it keeps things manageable. And I hope that it means I can look back at the end of a year and be really happy about how far the team, culture, product, and process have come.
All it takes is 2%.