Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
If you’re reading this then you’re probably avoiding doing something else more important. Most of us have over-full lives; we divide our time among family, work, friends, neighbors, clubs, hobbies, recreation, exercise, and on and on. Every day is a challenge to fulfill all of the committments pulling us in different directions.
Along with these daily demands comes the tug of desire for self-improvement; the desire to find the time to learn and grow. But this desire must compete with the rest of the demands on life, and it suffers just as much as everything else does when you try to cram 50 hours of committments into a 24 hour day. How many New Year’s resolutions start out well and then fade away to the land of clichés?
This is especially frustrating when you consider Thomas Edison’s quote above, and recent research backs up this aphorism. Most prodigies are successful because they spend a lot of time training in their area of expertise, and not because they were born geniuses. In other words, practice makes perfect.
So unlike most things in our culture of instant gratification, expertise takes practice. And not just a lot of practice all at once. No, there’s no quick fix here, especially if you live a full life already. To really learn something well it takes persistent practice over a long period of time. That means every day. And not just every day for a few weeks, and then take a break for a few months because things get too busy. It takes persistent day-in, day-out effort over a period of years to really learn a new skill.
What can you do to help insure that you make time every day for the things that require a small amount of daily effort? The first thing to do is make sure you remember that you have daily goals. One simple trick is to just schedule them in your calendar. However, that technique can’t easily handle changes when your day’s schedule gets disrupted.
Another thing you can do is apply peer pressure; for example, if your goal is to jog every day, you can find a jogging partner or club. We’re social creatures at heart, so we don’t want to skip out on an appointment, and we also secretly want to see how we compare with others. However, it isn’t always possible or practical to find someone who shares your daily goals–most people won’t schedule a daily appointment just to do 100 situps with you, for example.
The solution I suggest is easy–just sign up for the free and easy-to-use Joe’s Goals. This simple but very useful web site allows you to create arbitrary daily goals, and then check them off every day. It’s particularly effective if you use a tabbed browser (preferably Opera, which will restore all of your previously open tabs when you restart it), and leave joesgoals.com open in one of the tabs.
This works especially well if you’re a frequent computer user. If joesgoals.com is always open in a tab in your web browser, you’ll stumble across it during the day and realize that maybe now would be a good time to spend twenty minutes practicing the piano. This helps you stay aware of your daily goals and insures that you’ll actually find time to get to them each day.
joesgoals.com also has a feature that exploits our tendency to be motivated by social pressure–you can share your progress against your (confidential) daily goals by displaying a “Joe’s Goals Badge” on your blog or personal web site. The badge is just a small chart that shows how well you’ve done against your goals during the last few days. Although I haven’t done this myself, I can see how it would be especially motivating for some people.
If you don’t want to sign up for joesgoals.com, you can always model this kind of goal-keeping in a spreadsheet and just leave that document open all the time on your local machine. One advantage of joesgoals.com, though, is that your account is accessible from home, work, on the road, and while on vacation. That makes it hard to find excuses for not sticking to your plan!
I’ve used Joe’s Goals for about four months now, and I can attest to its effectiveness, at least for me. Several areas of my life have improved as a direct result of its ability to help me keep the small daily goals in mind. Give it a try, and exercise your inner genius.