How To Create a Positive Difference in Your World, One Tiny Tweak at a Time

It’s easy to think, when you are a single individual, perhaps self-employed, that there’s very little you can do. What sorts of things can you really accomplish? What sorts of valuable change can you effect. Can anything you do every really make a difference?

On one hand, that realization can be very freeing. We’re taught all our live that we’re nothing if we’re not a professional or economic success (usually both).

But when you realize how well you can live, on how little work, and how when you free yourself of things like commutes and restaurant lunches you can have a really great life working not all that hard, and life is good, and you didn’t have to kill yourself to do it– that’s incredibly liberating. It seems like the rules of the world have changed and anything is possible.

Sometimes you feel this vestigial twitch to go out and “be a success” but you lack the motivation because your life it genuinely excellent and all “success” would do for you is to win a game you didn’t want to play.

So realizing that you don’t have to “make a mark” to have a pretty cool life is often a revelation.

But there still isn’t enough time to do all the stuff you want to.

Time To Make The Tough Decisions

There are two ways to address this constraint; do stuff faster, or do less stuff.

This is a basic tenet of frugality, minimalism, and similar philosophies, because this is the sort of thing that happens with every constraint.

Constraints breed efficiency.

They force you to be conscious about your decisions, to prioritize, to get creative.

And most things are constrained. Time. Energy. Money. Focus. Effect. Therefore efficiency is not about solving for X. It’s about finding the target that’s as close to optimal in all those categories, weighted in order of their personal priority to you at the moment.

Give Me a Lever Long Enough and I Will Move The World

In the world of physics, leverage multiplies force to create an outsized impact.

Similarly, you’ll want to consider the concept of personal leverage. One person can’t get shit done in this world, because one person simply can’t do everything. So instead I suggest you look at things in your life and consider whether you can leverage your personal effectiveness.

By that I mean, there are certain things that you do that are interesting, valuable, and profitable. Then there are a whole bunch of things that just need to get done, or they sort of just occur and need to be handled. I guarantee you could cut that second list by half and not miss a thing on it. In fact, your life would probably run better. But if you cut it all out, your life wouldn’t run at all. It would grind to a halt, because it’s just about impossible to outsource to the point where you don’t have to get groceries, fix food, tidy up after yourself or do laundry.

In fact, I have at times found that I have made my life too efficient, and my quality of life suffers as a result. For some reason, I find that a certain amount of busywork is necessary. If I don’t get it, I just waste my time far less productively.

However, there are definitely things you can do to extend your personal effectiveness.

I’ve always said, you don’t necessarily have to know everything, but you do have to know where to go looking for answers when you need it. And that is really the key to personal effectiveness. I do a lot of research. Not to get smarter, per se, but to get a better handle on what I don’t understand. Do you know how to balance a portfolio? Me neither. But I know enough about it to know that when I have to do it I’m going to ask my good friend Joel if he has recommendations for tools. Do you know how to structure a company so that its owners are safe from lawsuits? No, me either, that’s why I have an accountant (and he can recommend a lawyer.)

Going Pro with Personal Leverage

Joel mentioned in the comments last week about wanting to have impact in the world other than growing the GDP. This is where personal leverage comes in. Another way to talk about this would be to co-opt Stephen Covey’s language and talk about “expanding your circle of influence.”

You would do well to go back and read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but it comes down to a few things:

  • Walking the Talk
  • Keeping Promises
  • Teaching and Mentoring

I think the second one is self-explanatory, but the first and third are actually mirrors of each other: Teaching and Mentoring could be written as “Talk the Walk.”

When people do something good and well, people often take notice. Not always, but often enough. When you talk about how to do your thing good and well, if you generously answer questions and give helpful advice, then people especially take notice (because they are getting something out of it. We’re wired to be interested when it’s in our interests to be, you know.)

But the side-effects of Talking the Walk go beyond just “people listening to what you say.

  • You improve your knowledge of the subject. I don’t know what it is; you can know something backwards and forwards and you’ll still find holes in your learning when you try to explain it to someone else.
  • You will unconsciously try to live up to people’s expectations of you. This is a double-edged sword, but you can make it work in your favor.
  • Talking the Walk puts you in the path of opportunities more often than just Walking the Talk does. Consequently, people seem to move more quickly toward their goals and evolve their understanding of what they want faster than average.
  • Similar to the last point, you get more help in progressing towards your goals, especially the ones that require cooperation.

Those are the benefits on your side. From the other people’s side, you are helping them reach their goals faster and more easily. And that’s the sort of win/win that increases your personal leverage tenfold with even the slightest effort on your part. 

It doesn’t take a lot to slowly go through your life and tweak stuff to make it better. And if you think “I’m already at capacity, I’d rather just watch Mad Men,” I’d remind you that you’re not going to get back any time unless you figure out a way to shorten your errands, find a dry cleaner that delivers, start a meal swap with friends, or finally hire a VA to do your invoicing. You’ll always be stuck where you are.

When you do manage to free up some time, you can expand your personal leverage further by reaching out. But you don’t have to worry about that yet.

What’s one little thing you can tweak this week to adjust something for the better?

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