Improving The Little Things
I graduated from college in 1993 and could not find an engineering job, so I worked at Kinkos making copies. This was a stressful time (because I did not have a proper job or a girlfriend), and I relieved the stress by taking bike rides after work. Later, I had to move back home, which upped my stress level, and I took even more bike rides.
A huge hill was nearby, and I began hiking/riding to the top. Wow, this wasn’t easy, and it took about four months to get to the top without getting off my bike and pushing it. This was quite a physical accomplishment, and I still remember the first time I made it without stopping. I jumped for joy and shouted at the top of my lungs.
One day, I timed myself. It took eighteen minutes to get to the top. Over the months, my times usually improved by a second or two, but there were days when I was off by a minute. The problem was that I was upset that my business was not getting off the ground and this mindset affected my performance.
One of the positive aspects of exercise is the freedom to think. This helped relieve my stress, and I devised creative ideas to solve problems. Of course, I also thought about reducing my climb time. I knew every rock, rut, turn, and bicycle gear. Plus, I had precise strategies for how to deal with each section.
Daily experimentation taught me that the steep sections required a simple strategy. “Miss the rocks and stay in low gear.” One day, I determined I was making another mistake. On the manageable sections, I slowed to recover, which allowed me to apply full effort during the challenging areas. As a result, my climbing time vastly improved.
I spent two years failing to start an audio business, but that frustration translated to a time of 10 minutes 23 seconds. I tried like crazy to crack the ten-minute mark and never made it. Eventually, my business dreams faded, and I found an engineering job. However, those endless hours of bike riding left me with powerful memories.
The fundamental lesson I learned is that on an enormous project, measurable improvements can come from concentrating on effortless tasks, for example, editing a book. Let’s pretend the beta reader identified the main character as too arrogant.
An author would spend hours locating the arrogance and editing. This is tedious work, and there are no easy tricks to reduce the time required. However, along the way, the author can also look at the other parts of the book. Make a simple change here, delete a few words there, or add to a description. These minor changes only take a few seconds, but the book dramatically improves from the reader’s perspective.
Another example is when I created a giant diagram to describe an extensive system. It involved weeks of research, basic graphics, titles, text, and linking objects. There was no getting around the arduous parts, but as I slugged through it, I added tiny features, simplified areas, moved things for a better artistic appearance, and made other subtle improvements. The result was well received, and many compliments focused on the overall appearance, which resulted from slight enhancements.
Learning to focus on the small things was an important life lesson, but how I discovered this was surprising. The real takeaway is to keep an open mind and keep trying.

You’re the best -Bill
September 27, 2023
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