Remember Beanie Babies? They were a fad that took off in the late 90s when my kids were young enough to participate. They were little stuffed animals that only cost about $5 apiece, so when I first found out about them, I thought it was a good idea. They were nice wholesome toys that didn’t cost much, so I was all for them.
But the low price actually was the problem, because my wife would think nothing of picking up a couple here and there when she was at the mall. Then McDonalds started giving them away in Happy Meals. Pretty soon it became competitive, because other kids had more and different ones than mine did. They started figuring out strategies. The idea was that different cities would have different varieties, so, since I traveled a lot, I had to be on the lookout for new ones everywhere I went. Once we took a family trip to Alaska and almost missed our connection in Seattle because Lisa and the kids had fanned out to case all the airport stores.
The worst part was when I took stock one day, and figured out that they had spent over $800!
Little things add up to a lot over enough time. It was bad enough with Beanie Babies, but even worse with other bad habits. I suspect that if I added up all the time I’ve wasted in my life giving in to this distraction or that every once in a while, it would add up to years.
But let’s focus on the positive side of the Beanie Baby effect. The rest of the world knows it as kaizen, and it is a powerful, powerful tool for productivity and self-improvement. People tell me all the time they would like to write more, or work out more, or learn more, but they just can’t find the time. Maybe their mistake is in trying to do it in large chunks (although there are definite benefits to spending larger chunks of time with thinking work, but that’s a different article). If you can’t dedicate large blocks of time to a worthwhile goal, set aside just five minutes. Maybe five minutes at the start of your day, or five minutes right at the end, or squeeze in five minutes reading an informative article, or just writing between appointments and tasks. After a while, just like Beanie Babies, you find that the more you pick up a few here and there the more motivation you have to get even more, so five minutes turn into ten, ten into fifteen, and so on.
Precisely because the individual inputs are so small, it may not seem like much is happening, until one day you suddenly realize how much you have done. Like drops of water wearing away the hardest rock, little bits of effort and attention here and there can accomplish a lot. And the best part is that the benefits tend to accelerate, because hard things get easier or turn into habits.
By the way, does anyone want to buy some Beanie Babies?