Break Tasks Down into Small Chunks

As I write this my son is playing scales on his double bass. (Tomorrow morning he has an audition for the high school orchestra, which is a big deal for an 8th grader.) Scales are one of the most important and most boring things to practice on an instrument because they give the player a chance to work on small chunks of difficult notes over and over. It’s a great analogy for how all work should be done.

The B melodic minor scale on double bass has some interesting challenges. There are notes that aren’t played frequently and hand positions where the thumb goes somewhere it normally doesn’t. Getting this scale right involves practicing difficult movements over and over until they feel natural. Once those difficult sections are familiar the rest of the scale is easy to play.

In college and when I played music professionally I didn’t really appreciate the lessons I learned from playing hours of scales. Those same principles are scattered throughout the work I do each day. Break big jobs down into smaller chunks. Identify the chunks I’m already comfortable with and set those aside. Identify the hard chunks and spend the most time on those. Put everything together at the end and run it until it feels natural.

It doesn’t matter if the work is preparing a presentation, writing sales copy, coding part of a website, or having a difficult one-on-one conversation with an employee. The principles behind playing scales work for all the work I do, and probably for the work you do to.

I just hope I won’t have B melodic minor played by an 8th grade bassist stuck in my head all night. Ah, the hazards of parenting!

Going Faster and Getting Lost

Seth Godin talked about going faster in a recent post. He said, “Going faster increase the chances you’ll find a landmark and become unlost.”

That is so true. In my younger days when I taught English in Asia I sometimes decided I would take a new road home from work every day for a week. The main road home took 20 minutes on my scooter. There were many opportunities to get lost. It was so much fun! These were the days before GPS on your phone, so getting lost meant asking a person for directions. This was one of the ways I forced myself to practice Chinese.

On those long rides there were often times where I felt lost but also that I was going in the right direction. Sometimes all it took was trusting myself and I could find my way to a familiar place. My list of familiar places got a lot longer. When I was really lost, all it took was asking for directions and a few more minutes of driving to get things sorted out.

Those rides made me much braver. I learned that being lost was confusing, but temporary. It could be easily fixed.

I still find truth in these principles. Keep moving. Ask for help when you need it. Being lost is temporary and solvable. Keep moving!