Small Things Can Keep Us from Big Things


Lately I’ve felt that I’m doing well at the small things, but failing to plan for more involved work. It’s not that the small things are inconsequential—or so I tell myself.

If you also struggle with doing small things well but neglecting the bigger picture, it’s time to take action. The only way to break the pattern is to force ourselves to look ahead and answer the question:

What, exactly, am I trying to build here?

Or perhaps:

What outcome would I like to achieve?

For me, I know the answer. I don’t want to only do small things. I want to do the more involved work, the kind that requires real planning. I want to embrace small actions that lead to bigger outcomes, not small actions that produce only small results.

I sometimes hear from people who say they don’t like planning and prefer to take life as it comes. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, I guess. But it’s definitely not for me. I want to do bigger things, so for that I have to plan.


The visit-every-country quest is in full drive. After my time in Australia, I went to Kiribati, also known as #189. Only four countries left! The end is in sight!

Three of the four are fairly difficult to get to (Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome, and Tuvalu) and the final one (Norway) will be a big deal with a few of our friends coming along for a party next April.

I’ll also be touring India for ten days at the end of November and beginning of December. It’s an intense schedule, but no more so than I’ve done before—and the point is, the travel quest component of my adventures is nearly complete.

The two other big projects I have looming on the horizon are a 12-month business course and my next book.

Biz + Book

I first wrote about the 12-month course a couple of months ago—way too early, as it turns out. I’m continuing to develop the curriculum and work with a talented team on a creative interface, but getting it exactly right has required more time than I anticipated.

The purpose of this project is to help people implement the lessons of The $100 Startup in a way that creates a substantial increase in income and sustainability. It will be good… when it’s done.

I mentioned last week that I’m preparing to write the next book, which by nature is a long, involved process with lots of research, drafting, editing, and revising. We’ve had hundreds of case study submissions so far, and many are interesting. Please keep them coming, especially if there are other people’s quests you can submit.

The book research and writing will be my main creative project for the first half of 2013, and I’ve blocked out a lot of time to be sure I can do it well. It will greatly help if I have a strong framework in mind before then, so I’ve begun making various notes and the beginnings of an outline in Scrivener. (Also see: How to Write a Book in 30 Days).

The biz project was supposed to launch two weeks ago, but … that didn’t happen. Then it was supposed to launch two weeks from now, but that won’t happen either. It’s now looking like an early January launch, which makes sense in terms of the year-long component to it, but I’m hoping to do some beta testing with a smaller group before the holidays.

All That To Say

To achieve something of significance, you have to give up things of inconsequence. This is hardly an astute observation, yet the real truth of it lies in its implementation.

On the way home last week, I made a list of things I’ll be letting go of so I can focus on the things that matter. I’ll still be doing travel hacking (watch for a big update on the Frequent Flyer Challenge soon), a few speaking engagements, and running, but I’ve clamped down on many other tasks and commitments.

Small things can lead to bigger things. But you have to do the right small things.

I hope you’re doing that. Are you?


*Chris Brogan and Julien Smith are good friends. I’ve pre-ordered several copies of their new book, which debuts today. Check it out if you’d like to learn how to make things happen.

Image: Sherman

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  • Sarah Somewhere says:

    Ummm… kinda? I find it hard to decide what little things are the building blocks to my dream, and what are just time-sucking wasters! Because sometimes I’ll be doing one of them, perusing twitter, for example, and I’ll discover a writing or photography competition that I never would have known about before. So I’ll think, “okay, that was worth it!” Then other times, I wonder if I should be setting my sights higher, on the “bigger picture” as you say. Thanks for giving me something to ponder Chris!

  • CJ @ Fill the Well says:

    I am definitely well-versed in busying myself with the smaller things (or even COMING UP with unnecessary smaller things) so that I don’t have to dive into the big, meaty, complex projects. I like the idea of intentionally paring down the unnecessary small things…because the big things are where the magic happens.

  • Patrenia says:

    Yes this is true, sometimes we pitter patter around in the small pond because it’s comfortable which is only a subconscious form of procrastination. This reminds me that the small steps can lead to bigger things, but definite goals must be set and movement has to happen (which does not include running in place) LOL. I’m excited to hear about your new project and can’t wait to see what it’s all about. Thanks for your constant inspiration 🙂

  • Austin L Church says:

    Chris, I think you nailed it: you’ve got to start with the plan; otherwise, the small things begin to seem more important than they really are. I’ve found it helpful to visualize the ideal outcome (and a HARD deadline) and then plan backwards, committing all the small steps and larger milestones to paper. And then comes accountability: I sometimes have to hold my own feet to the fire (and proactively replace weaker habits with stronger habits) by putting money on the line. For example, I’ll pay for a race well in advance so that I have to train—or lose good money.

  • Clara Mathews says:

    I will be letting go of some less than profitable clients. They take up much more time than they are worth. That will free up more time for me to focus on my writing.

  • Jo says:

    I think this fits with your last post about freedom. To be free, I would say you need to keep sight of the bigger picture and your big plans in sight, and let go of and worry less about the smaller things. That way, you get both freedom and you make more progress on the big, important things. Most people, I think, need to realise how small most of the little things are. I’m working on this!

  • Christy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this the last few days since a few opportunities have come my way which would be great money, but would take a considerable amount of time away from my true passion. It’s tempting to take the easy and comfortable route instead of keeping momentum on those bigger, more difficult projects.

  • Valerie Vierengel says:

    My focus (foci?) had been an e-book on clean eating, keeping on track daily with my Unconventional Masters Degree (talk about little things! Spanish language podcasts on the subway, reading the Koran during long Sunday sermons, playing the matching game on the WorldFree app to learn my countries and capitals) and helping a friend with some bookkeeping (hoping to turn that into a $100 Startup business!)) — all while working full-time and raising 3 kids. At times, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere but starting to see the little things adding up and moving me closer to completing the bigger things. Thanks for sharing your vision!

  • Willow says:

    I think your observation is more astute than you might think. It’s easy to get caught up in the little things, the day to day, and not even realize there is a bigger picture. Thinking forward about where we want our intentions to lead is a big part of making things happen! I’ve recently had a lot of ‘little things’ pay off in a bigger way, and it is a very encouraging feeling. It gives me the sense that I can hone those smaller things down and make more effective progress in the future. Great post!

  • Natalie the Singingfool says:

    Ah yes, managing the small things…sometimes they overwhelm me, and I need to shift my focus to include the big picture. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Taylor says:

    Funny, I’ve tended to go in reverse-make the big plan, then figure out the details. I think that’s been the messy way, frankly. This is my year to learn about details. A bit slower moving so far, but probably more comprehensive. Btw, you shouldn’t have mentioned the norway party-i nearly booked a ticket! jk. Thanks for all the inspiration; I’m reading $100 start up AGAIN! 😉

  • Kate says:

    Sounds like your plans are optimistic (as mine often are) which means you need room to change them from time to time. Interestingly, when I read your post my feeling was ‘good for you!’ but if ever I’ve had to change a release date on one of my own products I’m hard on myself about it. I take great comfort from the fact that you’ve experienced the same. Thanks for your honesty Chris.

  • Antonia Lo Giudice says:

    Thanks for the reminder Chris:) Although I got rid of all the things that were actually keeping me in doing what I really wanted to do (quit my job, sold all my belongings), sometimes, other “little” things come creeping in. For me, it is essential that I take an “inventory” of all the little things and evaluate how profitable they are in the “bigger” picture. This has helped me in being more careful on what I chose to eliminate, sometimes, some of the little things open doors and opportunities for the bigger picture. It is not easy, somehow those non essentials just find their way in. This post is a kick to get back on track!

  • Kate says:

    Wow! I can’t believe you are almost to the end. I feel like I’ve been reading for so long I thought it would never end. I would have one hell of a party if it were me this is amazing you did it so fast and stayed on budget. I love it and can’t wait to see what happens when your done with the initial countries. I’m sure you’ll re-visit some it had to have been an amazing experience so far and it’s been great learning about travel hacking too now if only I could get more miles. Well awesome can’t wait to read the next entries.

  • brandon says:

    I am almost finished with the 100 dollar startup. There is so much information and I often find myself wondering if I am missing too many steps. Is my army big enough, when is the right time to send out info about a launch, am I doing all of this right? Then I remember that working on the important things is the best way to get things going. I started a blog to document my travels. I am currently in Cuzco, Peru taking language classes and going on adventures. I found inspiration for a project while I am here and am in the process of putting it together. It is hard to know which pursuits are the little things that get in the way. My language classes are important, so is the blog for audience building, and of course I have to work on the project to make it exist as a viable product. Oh yeah and experiencing my adventure is important too. I realized I may have strayed off topic. This is the first time I am responding to your emails and so I must include my gratitude. I saw you speak in Portland in June and have been consistently inspired ever since. I thank you for the work you do. The most helpful advice, besides embracing freedom. has been to write 1,000 words a day. Not hard for me

  • Robin Bradford says:

    When I’m working on a big project, I use many things I’ve learned from Zen practice. Zen sesshins, as intensive meditation periods are called, are intense but temporary times to contain energy and focus on one intention. During a 6-week “sesshin” I limit communications and generally observe where my energy is disbursed from work toward my goal. I can’t say “no” to fun, time-wasting serendipitous things forever, though, but I know it’s just a short time period and I will be “free” again. That is, free to get distracted from my big goal.

  • William Bass says:

    Intention is paramount. Perhaps its time to focus on small things. If ignored they can multiply & overwhelm. Perhaps its time to address big things. If ignored they, too, may roll right over you. Without intention there is no plan and there are no trees to make a forest & no forest to sustain trees. For me distractions come in all shapes & sizes, I can even be distracted by my plan, especially when my plans don’t align with reality. Ha!

  • Sunish says:

    Which part of India are you coming to ? Would love to meet you.

  • PVR Somanadha Sarma says:

    Are you coming to Hyderabad,the southern Indian city, when you are in India?

  • Jenny says:

    Honestly, right now – I am taking a very different approach for myself personally.
    I’m taking it easy and allowing myself some space to breathe, actually develop as a teacher through practicing teaching, and giving myself time to reflect on everything else.
    All the ‘do it now,’ sort of mentality, and the loss of a dear friend have caused me great anxiety (not that I wasn’t already facing anxiety) and I’ve realized more than anything I need to allow myself a chance to just be, and actually let the creative juices go to figure out well, what is the next ‘big thing?’ And truly – let the current big thing – learning through teaching – be and grow itself awhile. That is a big enough project on its own that’s taken years to realize; and it is yet another ‘start’ even when it was a finish line for so long. Now it’s the next chapter instead of the goal, with new rules. Rather than think about my next ‘Do it now,’ I’m trying to remind myself just how hard I fought to get to this one – and remind myself to enjoy it instead of thinking too much about what comes after, just yet, any way.
    I’m still thinking about what’s next but, with a little less pressure and more ‘be present’ reminders.

  • Ara Bedrossian says:

    I like the idea of looking at the result of our actions and gauging effort based on that. A collection of small things could just be small, or result in something big. My take is, it’s my judgment whether something is big or small. At the end of the day, if I’m unhappy because I didn’t do something, then I’ve got to move that up to big thing status and get crackin on it.

  • jonathanwthomas says:

    So, will you be writing a book about visiting every country in the world?

  • Joseph Bernard says:

    This is quite a thought provoking post for me. I am a “be in the moment” kind of person, who is guided by the wisdom of my intuition, my inner knowing. What I have noticed though is that my big picture plans are more about helping to create a better world through raising consciousness and expanding compassion. So my plans are maybe not personal enough since I still need to make a living.

    Or can a living be made as a social artist focused on being a change agent?

    That seems to be what life is about – expressing who you are in your own way and hopefully providing for yourself and lifting those around you up.

    Peace to all.

  • Kristen says:

    I sometimes struggle with this, too. When you’re used to a pattern of doing the small things, you kind of get caught up in it. My remedy is to continuously review my end goal – when you do that, you figure out which small things are significant – and which ones aren’t. It’s a great way to prioritize. Happy traveling + keep persevering! 🙂

  • Nadine says:

    Yeah, very interesting post Chris. Before I would say the beauty is to let things happen – but it turns out that if you have no focus on a bigger goal in mind you start letting time pass without making a process at all. So I have put down the following for myself – set up the adventure umbrellas ‘5 ultra explorations’ and ‘5 countries, 5 rivers’ – the aim is to create 3 great, inspiring adventures a year and share it with others and let them take part. Then i have certified as a movement coach having learned from the best in the barefoot area and right now I am setting up workshops in Germany for November. Aim is that by the end of the year I can quit my part-time job or even at the start of December, cause it is really just a waste of time and not worth the money (shit pay). The first big adventure starts in spring 2013 and together with other WDS participants we will launch an adventure in July either after or before the summit.

    I feel though now that i can even go bigger on some of the steps, what is the outcome that I would like to achieve, I can watch myself / brain coming up with even stronger actions, I guess this is what’s happening if you choose to focus big!

  • Ajit says:

    hi Chris…..

    congragulations on 189…..

    where are you scheduled to visit in India?
    do inform .would love to hug you…..



  • Dale says:

    I thought this post was thought provoking. Don’t we all get caught up in the small stuff, side-swiped by unimportant tasks possibly because we don’t quite know the next right thing to do? It becomes easier to do almost anything but work on the Big Idea because the idea may not be completely cooked yet. However, planning daily does bring us back and breaking some of those big things down into smaller pieces makes them easier to accomplish.

  • Michal says:

    I think what you benefit from the most is alignment between little steps and the bigger picture. I wouldn’t go as far as saying the alignment has to be complete – you need to allow some room for serendipity, some breathing space. But it can’t be all about breathing space – you need some direction, some overarching goal that things contribute to most of the time.

  • Kevin says:

    Its funny that I am just going back and reading this post today since today was one of those days where the small things take over for me.

    The new course sounds very interesting!

  • Jen M. says:

    I’m TRYING to do that. 2012 was a very hard year for me and for my family, so a lot of things fell by the wayside. I’m sincerely hoping that 2013 will be less bumpy.

    I will be watching for your course! I really think I need it! I’ve been bootstrapping it and flying by the seat of my pants in my little business, and I think I’d really benefit from some good, solid business education.

    Keep doing what you do, Chris! I love it!

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