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Small Aggravations Kill Careers

...Like Chinese Water Torture. Here's How to ‘Stop the Drops’ and Optimize Your Life

Chinese Water Torture

Imagine you’re restrained, lying on your back. A tiny drop of water hits your forehead every three seconds. This doesn’t sound like torture. At most, you’re just slightly annoyed. Now imagine you’re still restrained, 10 full days later. The drops of water have never stopped. Would this drive you insane? This is called Chinese Water Torture. (Note: There are methods of torture described to be like this in the 15th or 16th century – thanks, Wikipedia).

Now, think about your day to day life. How many drops of water hit you throughout the day, right on the forehead? How many small aggravations do you put up with only because you’re too busy to deal with them?

My Chinese Water Torture

My drops of water once included many things. Some of them were in my personal life:

  • Tires that slowly would leak air over the course of three days.

  • Plastic clothes hangers that would constantly break as I dressed in the morning.

  • Pillows that were a little too thin, causing me to fold it in half for added comfort.

Many of them were happening at the office:

  • Chairs that leaned back too far.

  • Printers that would never connect.

  • Leaving at 6 p.m. for a very crowded gym, which meant rush hour on the weights.

For me, I didn’t notice many of these things when I had a lower stress position in our growing digital marketing firm. As I reached promotions and received increased responsibilities in new roles, I also saw my time grow more and more valuable. My focus became more important. And the phrase my CEO had been telling me for months, “It’s all about the little things” started to make complete sense.

Life Optimization

Everything in digital marketing is about optimization — conversion optimization, search engine optimization, user experience optimization, etc. We optimize things by making small tweaks every month. These small tweaks, over time, amount to large impacts on website traffic, campaign performance, and overall ROI. Optimization is the yang to the above described yin. For every drop, there is a small optimization that can be made to your life.

I’m now on a mission to optimize my life. I started with the small drops. I replaced my tires, switched to felt clothes hangers (This took a few months, but it was worth it.), and invested in new pillows. These changes are huge on the budget, but they made a huge impact. It’s not all about driving safety, closet organization, or sleep comfort. It’s about the effects of those positive changes:

  • Because I don’t have to spend 20 minutes 10 times a month stopping at a local gas station to fill up my tires before work, I gained back 200 minutes of my time and added that back to my mornings.

  • Without having hangers break constantly, putting my clothes away became incrementally less annoying and easier, so I stopped putting off the laundry chores as much. Now that I’m doing laundry regularly, I have nicer things to wear to work on a regular basis and more time in the mornings to get ready.

  • Because I’m sleeping better, I’m less fatigued by the end of my week. This increase in energy allows me to spend more time focused while I’m at work, increasing productivity.

Stop the Drops

Here is a simple plan for optimizing your life and stopping the drops:

  1. Identify the things that annoy you or hinder you from being completely focused in your daily life.

  2. Organize them into three columns:

  3. Easy / Simple to Fix / Small Impact

  4. Medium / Will take some work to Fix / Large Impact

  5. Hard / Difficult to Achieve / Will change your life dramatically

  6. Set an achievable time frame as your goal for each column to be complete.

  7. 1 month, get to work!

  8. 6 months, slowly but surely!

  9. 1 year, it’ll be worth it!

  10. List the tasks you’ll need to do within each time frame to optimize your daily life.

  11. Keep this list visible.

  12. Set reminders on your digital calendar.

  13. Start checking those boxes off as you make changes to your daily life.

  14. Pay attention as your daily life starts to become optimized for your performance at work and satisfaction at home.

  15. Keep your list as a living document. When drops of water start to form, add them to your list in the appropriate column.

  16. Recognize where your savings are occurring, and feel free to use the extra bandwidth for your own personal gain!

The gains you will receive from making tiny optimizations will make room for other improvements in your life. When I got a promotion that required more of my time at the office, I moved my work out to the early morning. I couldn’t have done this successfully with my old tires, old pillows and old hangers. The time, energy, and patience it took me to deal with just those little things hindered my ability to do this. Without a morning gym routine, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with managing my team and my clients. Now, do you see how everything is connected?

Reward and Impact

These things pay off. Recently, I could buy a new luxury car and move into a nice flat in the heart of downtown. I’m not simply mending drops or removing restraints. I’ve now graduated to adding padding and protection from further drops that might come along the way.

This is the way I have learned to manage my ability to increase capacity and handle more responsibility to grow with our company. The reality is the busier you get, the more those drops feel like thunderstorms. Patience grows harder to carry, and tolerance becomes a test. If you are in an entry level role, now is the prime time to start managing this. If you are already rising in the ranks, get ahead of your drops before they drown you.

In Chinese Water Torture, the victim is very aware that the water is being purposefully dropped on his or her head by someone. In life, these drops are a bit harder to identify without intentionally analyzing yourself. If you don’t pay attention to them, this doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Optimization is the key. Good luck! Bring a friend, spouse, or coworker along with you, and share your successes.


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