What is the Compound Effect? It’s pretty simple. Since most of you are writers, we’ll use you as an example. Write 2,000 words a day and in a month, you’ve got a novel. That’s pretty much it. The compound effect is the idea that small actions, over time, add up to something big.
Small Actions + Time = Something Big
That compound effect is a great way of looking at projects that might seem daunting at first, like novels, or films or screenplays. You’re breaking them down into small, actionable and achievable pieces. And it’s an even better way of looking at your life. Need to lose 20 lbs? The compound effect can help you get there, but only if you do it right.
Here are 3 secrets to harnessing the power of the compounding effect. (And writers, I’ve got something special for you, so make sure to read the post all the way to the bottom).
1 – Small Actions
Looking at our weightless example, most of us will say, okay, one pound a week and I’m there in 20 weeks. That’s a good start, but it’s not actionable so it’s not a small action. That’s a key to the compound effect. It’s about things that can be done, that can be acted upon. We all know how to break a big goal into smaller, more achievable goals but just saying you need to lose 1 pound a week is not going to actually make you lose any weight. But deciding to cut 100 calories from your diet a day (or burn a 100 extra calories will). So maybe you give up that mid-afternoon candy bar from the vending machine (that’s probably 250 calories, btw). In a week, you’ve knocked off 1250 calories, or about a 1/3 of a pound of energy. It’s one, small, easy change that will have a big effect — with time. Add some additional exercise, like say a 30 minute walk around your neighborhood every day and you’re knocking out around another 1,00 calories a week.
You can use this in your work every week. I have a subscription service for writers that delivers about 25 new writing prompts every month. That’s a lot of new story ideas but instead of being overwhelmed and doing the work in one marathon session, I come up with just 3 new prompts a day, and only on weekdays. That’s 15 a week, or 60 a month — more than enough to meet my quota.
Notice how I don’t do 10 prompts a day, or even five. I’ve found three is the perfect number to make it feel like I’m doing work, but not so much that I have trouble coming up with ideas everyday. Occasionally a fourth prompt will come to mind and I’ll jot that one down, too, but usually I stick to three. This seemingly tiny number, with time, adds up to something pretty big: 720 prompts a year.
2 – Patience
The biggest struggle you’re going to have with the compounding effect formula is time — small actions don’t compound overnight. You have to be patient.
I’m not patient.
But I’m learning. I’ve been a runner for years, but hadn’t done much weightlifting until recently. If you’re not familiar, solid-state cardio like running isn’t the best weight-loss activity out there. In fact, training for my last half-marathon I gained weight as I started to taper before the race.
Strength training, on the hand, really helps to manage body fat percentage. If you’re interested in why there are tons of information you can search for online, but I’m telling you this story because I started a new strength training plan for beginners about four months ago. I do just three sessions a week, with just three exercises in five sets with five reps. That’s not a lot — trust me, some days it really feels like I’m not doing anything in the gym at all. But four months in and I’ve gone from squatting 50 pounds to almost 200. I’ve added 60 pounds to my bench press and almost 80 to my deadlift so far. And now, at four months in, I’m starting — just starting — to see the results in the mirror. Think about where I’ll be in another 4 months. That’s the magic of the compound effect.
Here’s another way to look at this: a year from now, you’ll wish you started today. If you take nothing else from this piece, it should be that. All it takes is getting started. I know, I know… easier said than done. But you can! Really.
Go back and read #1 again. Small actions. If you’re having trouble sticking to what you decided to do, make it a smaller action. You can always go bigger later, after the habit is ingrained. Think incremental change. In other words, if you’ve never written more than a tweet, decided to write 2,000 words a day every day might be a really difficult “small action” for you at this point. Try 100 words a day instead. After a few months of consistently hitting that goal, you can increase.
3 – The Real Compounding
While you might be focused on compounding one goal, like say, completing a screenplay by writing one page a day (that’ll get you a first draft in about four months!) the benefits stretch beyond just that one project. As you start to realize the benefits of the compound effect in one area of your life, they start to spill over into other areas. Losing 20 pounds? Well now you feel better, look better, have more energy and more confidence. That means things go better at work. They go better in your personal life, too. The more things go better, the more you’re able to keep improving. All the small actions your taking are working not just in one area, but in everything you do. You’re stacking up the benefits day by day, hour by hour. You’re compounding all the good and pushing out all the bad.
Making the Compound Effect Work In Your Life
So how and where can you start putting all this into practice? Hint: everywhere and easily. Okay, so that wasn’t a hint as much as an answer but I want to be really clear. There’s no aspect of you’re life that you can’t use the compound effect and again, it doesn’t have to be hard. We’re not talking about seismic shifts if your day-to-day. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what you should do. Look for small changes or routines that you can implement right now.
We’ve already looked at writing, we’ve looked at health and fitness. What about money? That’s a huge area that you can apply the compound effect to — $100 properly saved an invested can turn into $1000 over time, in just about 10 years. Think about if you can figure out how to save $100 a month. That’s $1200 a year, or $12,000 in ten years. For some of us, that’s still a big stretch. No matter, set up an automatic transfer of just $1 a day into your savings account. You won’t miss the money, but in 10 years you’ll still probably have over $3,000 saved. I used to even have a bank account that would automatically round up my purchases and deposit the difference in savings. Every month, we’d added an average of $60 – $70 to our savings.
What about hobbies? Want to learn to sketch? A sketch a day and you’ll be amazing in no time. Want to change your outlook on life? Shift your focus. Figure out one thing to be grateful for everyday, and write it down in a journal before bed. Start meditating. It’s tough, I know, I’ve tried but put what you’ve learned here into practice to make it almost too easy. Don’t shoot for 20 minutes out of the gate, try 2. It’s enough meditation to see a benefit that will only compound over time.
Personally, I’m working on flexibility and my posture (my desk is killing my back). So I do a series of small posture exercise designed to loosen my muscles everyday. In just a few weeks I’ve noticed improvement in how I stand, without even thinking about it. I’ve also added a 10-minute yoga routine in the mornings on weekdays. I hate yoga and I’m as rusty as an old gate, so this is a big one for me. Better posture has translated into a lot more confidence and more confidence has a ton of obvious benefits.
The Compound Effect for Writers
I’m gong to make this super easy for you! I’ve got a list of 8 super-actionable steps you can take to turbocharge your writing career right now. These are all small actions designed to harness the power of the compound effect in your writing. Just click the button below and I’ll send them to you.