What’s the Simplest Thing You Can Do?

I’m working with a number of clients on changing how they work. Some of it is project portfolio work. Some of it is how they manage programs or how the product owners manage the backlogs and roadmaps. Even in my writing workshops, people have to change something to accomplish their goals.

I’ve been asking this question: “What is the smallest change you can make?”

Sometimes, their ideas seem quite big to me. I have started to experiment with this question, “What is the simplest thing you can do?” So far, I’m getting better results. We will see how this goes.

I often look for the smallest thing, when it comes to my work. Often, the simplest thing is the smallest thing. Not always, but often. I had to change my question to realize that.

Here’s a personal example: I wanted to increase my walking after my vacation a few weeks ago. I successfully increased my walking about 20-25% on vacation. Wow, that’s huge. I was pretty sure that with the work pressures I have to finish articles, books, workshops, etc, I would not be able to walk 20% more. I thought about it—on a walk, of course—and decided I could add several 4-minute walks during the day. Before lunch, after dinner, maybe even during TV time in the evening. The commercial breaks are often 3-4 minutes. I could walk for an entire commercial break.

So far, I am succeeding. It’s a simple thing. It’s a small change. It’s the simplest thing I can do to increase my walking every day.

satir-change-modelWhen we ask ourselves about the simplest thing we could (or the smallest thing), we provide ourselves more options for a transforming idea.

If you’re not familiar with the Satir change model, here’s a quick refresher: We start in Old Status Quo where things are comfortable. We are capable, competent.

Something happens (the Foreign Element) and we move into Chaos where things are unclear. We are not always capable. We are often not comfortable.

At some point, we gain some insight and generate a Transforming Idea. (I like the Rule of Three for generating multiple possibilities of these ideas.)

Once we have ideas, we can select one and practice it. That’s what I’m doing with my walking. I have achieved a New Status Quo of more steps per day.

When people in organizations face large change, such as transforming to an agile approach and an agile culture, they often have Big Transforming Ideas. They want to change everything all at once. They are correct that agile is a system, and they will gain the most benefit from creating that system. And, our capacity—as humans—for change is limited. Think about big life stressors: marriage, moving, birth: they all involve large change.

When I changed my question from small to simple, people thought of different ideas. They happened to be smaller ideas, and they were simple.

I realized that this question was a form of coaching. When I changed my question, people had a new opportunity to change their thoughts.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: What is the simplest thing you can do?

2 thoughts on “What’s the Simplest Thing You Can Do?

  1. Jim Grey

    I hate exercise. For its own sake, anyway. I love spending my day working in the yard. And I love to hike in the woods, or ride my bike through lovely country. But in Indiana, where I live, the weather is downright inhospitable to such pursuits for about 1/3 of the year.

    What I find is that it is not helpful for me to set large physical fitness goals. It helps to think about direction. I’m currently packing about 15 pounds more than I’d like to, for example. But rather than have “lose 15 pounds” as a goal, instead I’m choosing to limit eating to regular meals, and at meals eat single regular portions, with two exceptions: when hunger is impairing my ability to think/work/function, and on weekends where I eat a little more liberally so I don’t feel deprived.

    And I’ll do this until it becomes habit/routine, and then I’ll think of some other thing I can do. One thing I did years ago was drive across the street at lunch to the big-box store and walk around inside for a half hour any day I didn’t have lunch plans. That worked out to be 2-4 days a week. Not bad. Not exciting, but not daunting either. And I could do that in any weather. No big box store near where I work now but perhaps there’s some other way to get in a little walking as the cold months descend.

    1. johanna Post author

      Jim, I like the way I feel after exercise. Not so sure I like doing it either :-). I love the idea of using a big box store to do some walking. Excellent idea, especially at lunch.

      I also have small goals for weight loss. I suspect I need to lose 30 pounds, which is a very large number. I only work on 5 pounds at a time. I have one more to lose in this five. I like your idea of creating habits that allow you to accomplish your goal. I was thinking about habits in another dimension (what agile managers can do) and I see I could post about that here. Thanks for the idea.

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