Making millimeters of progress

Throughout our working day some tasks are small, and we can do them in a couple of minutes, while some tasks are big and need a concentrated block of a couple of hours to really make progress. But some tasks are big and puzzling, so that while we know they will take time we don’t really know where to start or how to make progress.

A long while ago I needed to work on one such task. My organisation had a valuable-looking internal mentoring scheme, but people had forgotten about it, and it was largely dormant. I felt it was important to revive it—it would help with a few things we wanted to improve—but it was difficult to know where to start or how to really get it going.

I kept coming back to the old documents—re-reading them, following the few links there were. Each day I spent a few minutes doing this, and each day I was making just millimetres of progress. That was some progress, but it was difficult to see what I needed to do to make good progress.

Continuing my work, I wrote down some steps that someone should take—contact the people who had signed up, get them to update their details, work out how to promote the scheme, and so on. The actions all seemed very generic.

But then I realised I could easily do the first step. And then I discovered via the document history that some people had been updating it. These were additional people I could speak to, who had first hand experience of running it before. Suddenly those millimetres of progress gave way to much more—as if a door had suddenly burst open. I spoke to those new people, they gave me more ideas, and now there was lots I could do to move it forward. In the end the scheme became viable, real and useful again.

The lesson I learned from this is that if something seems intractable, it’s worth persistently playing with it, because sometimes those small millimeters of progress can open the way for much more insight and traction.

Photo by Andy Powell

One thought on “Making millimeters of progress

  1. Another insightful post Nik +1. I’ve found that I like having a 2nd, long running/intractable problem on the go in the background that I can pick away at – not just work related. It’s a great feeling when you suddenly get an insight or way forward that was not at all obvious before; sometimes you get a new way of thinking about something, or a number of different unrelated things come together into some new shape or relation.

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