Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Do sweat the small stuff

Sometime back, a popular saying was "Don't sweat the small stuff". This was usually followed by the corollary, "and it's all small stuff." Lately, this has been on my mind a lot, or more correctly, the opposite has been on my mind - "do sweat the small stuff."

It's by sweating the small stuff - mastering those seemingly meaningless tasks - that we gain the abilities we need to do the big stuff. In his book "Outliers", Malcom Gladwell mentioned the "10,000 hour rule claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours." That seems like a lot of time to become a master, but if you look at it as 40 hrs/wk for 5 years, that seems to fit accreditation requirements in a lot of jobs. Five years to become an "expert" seems reasonable. Five years of sweating the small stuff doesn't seem that ridiculous. Gladwell points to The Beatles and Bill Gates as examples of his "10,000 hour rule" (read the book for more details).

When my kids were young, we handed out chores. We started with small tasks, for example cleaning there room with our help, and expanded to bigger tasks (loading the dish-washer, cutting grass). In our work lives, we typically follow a similar process, working with co-workers at first, then leading projects. By sweating the small stuff, we show our employers that we are capable of moving on to bigger stuff.

It turns out this idea is not new, I didn't invent it and neither did Gladwell. I keep repeating Matthew 25:23 which says "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things."

Sweating the small stuff means different things to different people. It may mean showing up on time for a job that you really don't like. It may mean a little extra polish in the spit-and-polish (and a little less spit). It may just mean doing the things you know need to be done without expecting any recognition.

What does sweating the small things mean to you?

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