Minimum and Goal

by Admin
Updated: August 20, 2020

Use the minimum and goal method to develop new habits and increase personal productivity

There are many situations where failure to complete small repetitive tasks leads to failure to achieve the main goals.

This is evident in areas of diet and fitness but it applies equally to creativity, personal productivity and business in general.

When the small tasks involve doing something unfamiliar the focus is on the challenges of the tasks themselves and the added danger is that, once the challenges have been met, the tasks become boring.

Whether the tasks in question are difficult or boring (or both), the most important thing is to get them done consistently, i.e. make them habits...

Habits make things easy by propelling us into action without the need for conscious mental effort. Regardless of how we feel about the task itself, starting it is automatic - we find ourselves already doing it before we’ve even thought about it.

The “minimum and goal” method helps develop new habits in an easy failure-proof way by translating targets into ranges.

Goal

The goal in this method is a statement of how many of the individual small tasks should be achieved within a fixed time period. For example, ten sales calls per day or four visits to the gym per week. It is typically a component step of a larger objective, e.g. increasing actual sales per month or getting fitter.

Minimum

This will be a number of the individual tasks that is ridiculously easy to achieve, even on a bad day. For example, one sales call or stopping by the gym to do one exercise.

The critical effect is that the discomfort from attempting this tiny subset of tasks is so much less than the discomfort of failing completely that it creates a strong motivation in favor of simply getting it done. This results in the following:

  1. Something gets done, which is better than nothing
  2. After a short time, a habit has been formed
  3. The habit is strong, because it has been easy

Warning: Never set the minimum below what you need to survive!

Avoid multi-day minimums

A multi-day minimum would be something like 6𝒙 per week as opposed to 𝒙 per day for 6 days.

The advantage of multi-day minimums is it’s so easy to get ahead that most people will accomplish them as soon as possible rather than put them off (get all the minimums done on day 1).

This is fine if the minimum has real value or creates momentum, but the big disadvantage is that it isn’t so good at forming a habit.

Habits are best formed from a requirement to something every day. For example, a minimum of one sales call per day will develop a habit whereas five per week will be largely ineffective if they are all done on one day.

Can you do more than the minimum?

The benefits of consistently doing something - even if it is a very tiny fraction of everything that needs to be accomplished - are greater than they might seem. They add up.

Nevertheless, while the minimum helps to form the habit, it is almost never enough to achieve the main objective.

On the basis that once you’ve done one it’s not too difficult to do another, once you’ve achieved the minimum it’s then relatively easy to keep going and achieve the goal - which is what you should be aiming for - or even exceed it...

Make the goal ambitious but achievable

There are situations where overshooting the goal is not a good idea but if you’re in a situation where more is better then, in order to dramatically increase results, you can arbitrarily increase the goal to something so demanding that achieving it would be a major win.

Warning: Goals can always be increased down the line, but setting them too high too soon is demotivating.

Aspiring writers are often advised to set a daily goal of 1000 words. “Minimum and goal” would translate this into something like 10 words minimum (so low that there can surely never be a day when this can’t be achieved) and 5000 words goal. Anything in that range then counts as a success, but achieving the 5k would be cause for celebration. If the goal was an impossible 500k, no-one would even bother to try.

Keep track

Create a simple points system and keep a daily tally. I use a spreadsheet + a chart.

Give yourself a break

Breaks make a huge difference. I’ve found a approximate 1:7 rule seems to work well.

E.g. One day off per week is 1:6

E.g. 8 weeks on followed by one week off is 1:8

More info

Habits define us: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” - Will Durant summarizing Aristotle.

James Clear has some good advice on creating new habits.

In the context of writing advice, How Writing 1000 Words a Day Changed my Life shows how effective a consistent minimum can be and “Write Every Day“ is Bad Advice describes how a rigid schedule can lead to failure.

Internal links

List what you think you cannot do Defining goals as Utopian ideals How to get the things you want Cost averaging Go to Articles
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Answers?
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