Minimum Viable Progress

Have a quick look at this quote from Greg McKeown’s exceptional book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:

A popular idea in Silicon Valley is "Done is better than perfect." The sentiment is not that we should produce rubbish. The idea, as I read it, is not to waste time on nonessentials and just to get the thing done. In entrepreneurial circles the idea is expressed as creating a "minimal viable product." The idea is, "What is the simplest possible product that that will be useful and valuable to the intended customer?"

Similarly, we can adopt a method of "minimal viable progress." We can ask ourselves, "What is the smallest amount of progress that will be useful and valuable to the essential task we are trying to get done?"

This quote resonates with me right now because some of the "essential tasks" I'd like to accomplish this year are kind of... vague. I'm finding it a bit difficult to convert them into clear steps toward specific, measurable goals.

Here's an example concerning my work here at Casual Kitchen:

Goal for 2015:
* I want to learn more new recipes and share them with readers

Anyone who knows anything about proper goal construction knows that this "goal" blows. It's vague. It's non-specific. There's nothing to measure or quantify. These are all goal-setting no-nos.

What would happen, then, if we took this vague, suckola goal and brainstormed one or two possible minimum viable progress steps?

Possible Minimum Viable Progress Steps Towards Vague Suckola Goal
* Learn and cook a new recipe this week
* Cook four new recipes during the month of February

Suddenly things look a lot more measurable and specific, don't they? These are two well-crafted mini-goals that will take me in the direction I want to go. They're pretty easy too.

In simplest terms, then, a good minimum viable progress step should be a small and relatively easy win, and it should be a quantifiable step towards your general, larger goal.

One more thought... an intriguing one. It really isn't all that much to ask to cook one new recipe per week, or--slightly easier--four new recipes a month. If I maintain that pace, I'll have cooked forty-four new recipes by year end. That's darn impressive. These small, easy wins can really add up.

Another example. Laura is captivated by foreign languages, particularly French and Spanish. But "Learn French" is, you guessed it, yet another vague, suckola goal. It's also such a big goal that it can intimidate you out of taking any action at all.

So Laura outwitted her fears and created her own unit of minimum viable progress: spend a mere 30 minutes a day working on her French. She's also making it easy on herself by interpreting "working on French" as broadly as possible to keep the process fun and fresh: One day she might read aloud, another day she might work on grammar, and another day she might have a conversation with a French speaking friend. Heck, one of the most unexpected things we discovered while learning Spanish was it doesn't really matter all that much what she does. The point is rather to build a daily habit of spending time thinking in another language.

And if she sticks to this goal, by the end of 2015 she'll have put more than 180 hours towards language learning. Once again: it really adds up.

One last example: I'm partway through writing a book manuscript based on my Quick Writing Tips blog. But this manuscript has been sitting on my laptop, half-done, for nearly a year now, mainly because my goal, "Write Writing Tips Book" is yet another suckola goal. It's too big. There are no intermediate steps to help me along. Worst of all, I'm afraid of this goal.

Is it a surprise that I haven't been working on it?

So, I've made a choice to define my own minimum viable progress step: spend 30 minutes per day working on the manuscript. That's it. Small, easy, quantifiable and habit-based, just like Laura's daily language practice.

What are some other challenging life domains where we can apply the concept of "minimum viable progress"?

1) Weight loss
2) Fitness goals
3) Saving money/personal investing
4) Social skills/relationships

What might be examples of reasonably easy minimum viable progress steps for the domains above? How about:

1) Eat a healthy, low-carb breakfast every day this month.
2) Exercise 30 minutes three times this week.
3) Preschedule four quarterly conference calls with a fee-only financial planner in April, July, October and next January.
4) Strike up a conversation with one new person per day over the next week.

Readers, let's talk about you now. What are the goals you're working on, and what could be useful examples of minimum viable progress towards those goals? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Read Next: Things Are Important Before They're Important

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chacha1 said...

several large chunks of my life are out of my control right now - we are in the Waiting & Seeing stages with regard to some family stuff and some work stuff. So I've been leery of making "goals" per se, because what I will be ABLE to do and what I would LIKE to do may not be anything close to the same things.

The one thing I am determined to do, for which I have a plan, is get my paralegal certification. I have to go out on medical leave, and while I'm out I'll be doing the coursework online.

Janet C. said...

Do you want a simple and cheap (laughingly so if you get the ingredients on sale:-)? Get your readers to share their favorites too! Here's one I invented the other day:

Saute 1/2 red onion in olive oil; add 2 finely chopped garlic cloves as onions are getting translucent and saute a few more minutes. Add 1/2 chopped orange bell pepper (red will do, but orange has the zeaxanthin:-) and stir a minute longer. Add one bunch coarsely chopped swiss chard (or kale or similar dark leafy green; whatever is on sale) and one can diced unsalted tomatoes. Stir until kale is almost cooked, then add two 15 oz cans low-sodium garbanzo beans (drained). Add about a tsp. of dried basil (You could use fresh in season). Continue to cook on low to medium heat until heated through (maybe five more minutes). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne. If you wish, you can top the stew with a little grated parmesan cheese for a nice flavor. I call it "Eye Stew" since it has ingredients high in those nutrients good for the eyes! Four to six servings, depending on hunger level.