• Curt Mercadante

2500-Year-Old Productivity Advice

It's April 2021. How are your "New Year's Resolutions" working out for you?


Are you on track to hit those "big, hairy, audacious goals" you set for the year?


Perhaps, almost five months into the year, you're still tinkering with and crafting your big, strategic plan for this year and beyond — yet the more you remain stuck in your head, mired in your planning, you're getting no closer to your desired destination?


Here's the deal: Planning and goal-setting is great.


But it can also be a cop-out.


Constantly in the planning stage, excited about the potential of your future...


Without ever having to take the risk of actually moving forward toward your desired outcomes.


As I teased in this post, it's time to start thinking small.


Let's look quickly to some 2500-year-old wisdom from Lao-Tzu, as shared in Derek Lin's translation of the Tao Te Ching:


“Plan difficult tasks through the simplest tasks
Achieve large tasks through the smallest tasks
The difficult tasks of the world
Must be handled through the simple tasks
The large tasks of the world
Must be handled through the small tasks.
Therefore, sages never attempt great deeds all through life
Thus they can achieve greatness.”

In Five Pillars of the Freedom Lifestyle, I write that the fourth pillar — Outcomes — is best achieved by taking your long-term vision and reverse engineering it...


So that you have identified your key outcomes for every year, every month, every week, and every day.


The key is in reverse engineering.


So you define your long-term outcomes. That will satisfy your need for big, audacious goals.


But then you reverse engineer them so each day you focus on your daily outcomes.


Or, as Lao-Tzu writes, you focus on your "small tasks."


This wisdom is reflected in the adage:


"There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time."

But it's easy to focus on the whole elephant. It's easy to obsess about the sheer size of the animal. It's easy to tell everyone about how great you will be once you devour the massive beast.


And while you're doing all that, the elephant remains whole.


This is what Lao-Tzu means when he writes that "sages never attempt great deeds."


Those sages "achieve greatness" because they focus on their daily process of small bites of the elephant.


Every day they focus on small bites.


After enough days of small bites, the elephant is devoured. A great achievement!


Meanwhile, you're standing around thinking about the size of the elephant...or you've choked while trying to eat the whole, damned animal.


Set your big, audacious goals.


Then reverse engineer them all the way today, so you know the small, daily outcomes you need to achieve today to move you toward your desired outcomes.


It's not about motivation. It's not about willpower.


It's about the process of daily outcomes.


That's the way to achieve greatness and do it in what Lao-Tzu would label "effortless action."


The power of thinking small, FTW.

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