On February 23, 2015, Byron Jones broke the world record for standing long jump. From a standstill, Jones jumped 3.73 meters—12′ 2¾″—eclipsing the standing record by less than two inches.
Compare that performance to Mike Powell’s record-setting jump on August 30, 1991: 8.95 m (29′ 4¼″). Why did Powell jump so much farther? He was competing in a different event, the long jump, where athletes take a running start before they leap. Because of that running start, Powell jumped over twice as far as Jones’ jump.
I’ve heard multiple authors recommend starting your day by eating the biggest frog on your plate. It’s popular advice and the effect—if not the visual—is appealing. Your focus for the day is on getting your biggest win. You’ve done the worst part and the rest of the day will go smoothly, like you’re coasting downhill.
Unfortunately, it’s an approach that’s probably destroying your day.
Your biggest task for the day is often something outside of your comfort zone. That’s why it’s so big.
You don’t walk into the gym and immediately go for a personal best. You’ll hurt yourself.
What do you do instead? You warm up. You get loose. You get the blood flowing. After operating in your comfort zone for a while, then you challenge yourself.
Whether you’re planning your day or your year, you should start small then ramp up.
Instead of taking on your biggest task cold, start your day with three tasks that are squarely within your comfort zone. Knock them out as quickly as you can. Then square off against your biggest rock for the day.
Doing this has several key advantages.
- You build confidence. By taking out some smaller tasks first, you build your confidence. Small wins are still wins. When you do get to the biggest rock, you’re already in a winning mindset.
- You build momentum. Crossing off some small tasks quickly gives you a sense of progress on your day. As you pick up speed, it will be harder to get knocked off-course.
- You build willpower. Avoiding what you know you should be doing drains your willpower. Accomplishing a task replenishes it. You’ll have more in the tank to take on the big rock when its time comes.
- You build focus. Out biggest rock might be the most important activity we can do today, but all the little tasks can be distracting. Spend a pomodoro (or two) knocking out gravel.
To grow, reach your goals, and make a difference, you need to get outside of your comfort zone. But you don’t start there. You start with what you know.
When you’re setting a goal, you should take the same approach. The first three actions you identify should be squarely inside your comfort zone. Then quickly move to the actions that are going to stretch you before you cool down.
If a goal or project stalls out, go back to your comfort zone and start working your way out again.
Inside your comfort zone, you have traction. You can get started without slipping.
Once you get things going, that’s when you start to push yourself. A little faster. A little higher. A little farther. This is where most growth happens.
It may feel counter-intuitive to go big by starting small, but it works. The momentum you build from knocking out some small, simple tasks is another form of preparation. You’ll make greater progress and make it faster if you take on your biggest challenges with a running start.