I've previously written about my philosophy of biasing to taking the next step. But there's also a much more pragmatic version of this idea. That one of the most effective ways to make it easier and more likely to make progress toward a project, habit, or goal is to know the next step and keep it visible. Perhaps you've heard the in the popular saying "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Indeed, making progress on a project, habit, or a goal is nothing more than a series of steps. And while figuring out and taking 100s or 1000s of steps might seem daunting, it's much more approachable to answer "what's the next most valuable step I can take to make progress?"
There are many practical ways of doing this. Checklists and to-do lists are probably one of the most popular approaches. Making a list of the next steps can certainly help provide clarity. But checklists can also become overwhelming as they grow in size. They become so big we don't want to look at them. Or they become buried and forgotten about in a tool or notebook. And so I've decided to try a new experiment to keep these todos at the top of my attention. Instead of comprehensive todo lists, I'm only focusing on Next Steps.
I've had many iterations of my personal productivity system for maintaining balance in my life, practicing my habits, supporting my friends and family, and making progress on my goals and vision. My current system lives in Notion. And within my system, my Daily Dashboard is the heartbeat of my system. It's the page I visit first thing in the morning and throughout my day to stay focused and make progress. Specifically, I have a section for Projects where I've recently added a Next Step field for each project.
As part of my Daily Dashboard check-ins, I can quickly scan the list of projects asking myself "which of these next steps can I make progress on right now? Or sometime today?" This approach is much easier for me than it would be to open up each project, review its todlist, and consider the next todo. Rather I can scan the list of Next Steps, quickly saying yes or no to each one.
While it might seem like a simple change, making it more visible and only having one Next Step per project makes all the difference for me. It's much quicker and more approachable. Indeed, I've found myself making progress on my Next Steps more frequently since starting this experiment. It's amazing how such a simple change to one's system can have such a big impact. But as James Clear observes in Atomic Habits, "The central idea is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones." (James Clear, Atomic Habits)"
What's something you can change in your system to make it more helpful to you?