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Dare to Dabble: It Doesn’t Have to Be All or Nothing

written by: Michele McDonough • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 11/10/2011

Don’t believe the “all or nothing" mantra that others are pushing. You don’t always have to throw everything you’ve got into every project you undertake. Sometimes, it’s just fine to give whatever little bit of time and effort you have to spare.

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    Getting Away From the 110 Percent Mentality

    Chess pieces In today’s world – especially in the business environment – we’re often pushed to believe that we need to tackle every task completely and fully, giving that good ol’ 110 percent. While this may sound great in theory, it’s hardly practical and it can cause us to miss out on a whole lot of opportunities.

    Here’s the cold, stark truth. When we have to decide between giving all or nothing, nothing usually wins. In that sense, we’re just being practical because we know there’s no way that we can devote a ton of effort to multiple endeavors. So instead, we focus all our attention on a small number of things and none on the rest – no matter how interesting the “rest" might be.

    The problem with this philosophy is that we’re severely underestimating how much potential value we can receive from even the smallest amount of effort. After all, as trite as this saying may be, you can’t win the lottery if you never buy a single ticket.

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    The Power of One Percent

    Think about it this way. If you go from spending 10 hours a week to 20 hours a week on a particular activity, you’ve doubled your efforts – or increased them by 100 percent. If you start spending 25 hours a week instead of 20 hours, you’ve increased your efforts by 25 percent. However, if you make the leap from spending no time (0 hours) to any time (whether it’s 10 minutes or 10 hours), you’ve increased your efforts by infinity.

    Okay, I admit that I’m abusing math terminology a bit here. But, the point I am trying to make is that the jump from doing nothing to doing anything at all is way bigger than most people realize. In fact, it’s so huge that it can’t even be measured.

    So, if there’s something new you want to try, don’t abandon the idea just because you don’t think you have enough time and money to do it justice. Instead, figure out how much you are willing to invest and work within those constraints. Basically, don’t worry about giving 110 percent right from the get-go. It’s totally fine to just put in one percent of your effort – especially when you’re still testing the waters.

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    Taking Action on a New Philosophy

    Pile of books Of course, all of this is lot easier said than done. Plus, it can be pretty tough to determine the best use of your time within your self-chosen constraints. Let’s look at a few common examples.


    I know I’m taking the risk of sounding like one of those annoying ads for online education, but have you been thinking about going back to school and getting a graduate degree? If you’ve been putting it off because you don’t have the time or money to jump all the way in, consider other alternatives. Maybe you could just take a single class – or even audit a class.

    Does that still sound like too much? What about making an appointment to talk to the professor of a class you’re interested in, and seeing if it would be okay for you to attend informally once or twice a week. If the class schedule conflicts with other obligations, check into self-study options. You can always buy the textbook for the course to read on your own, and many professors will be happy to give you copies of their notes. Sure, you may not get official credit for what you learn, but you’ll still have the knowledge – and that’s the important thing, right?

    Professional Development

    Perhaps you’d like to get more involved in the project management community, but don’t have the time to join a local group. Maybe you don’t even want to join an online group, because “joining" seems like too much of a commitment. Instead, you could try taking part in activities like PMChat now and then. If you’re not comfortable joining the conversation, you can still quietly follow along and learn a lot from the others who are participating.

    Sharing Your Knowledge

    Maybe you’ve been thinking about starting a blog, but you’re worried it will take too much effort. Instead of diving all the way in, don’t worry about looking for a Web hosting service and plunking down the cash for your own domain. Pick out a free service like Blogger or WordPress and just start posting. Not only are these services easy to use, but they’re extremely scalable. Plus, you can always migrate your blog to a new site later on, if and when you decide to expand your efforts.

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    It’s Okay to Dabble

    One of the beautiful things about breaking free from the “all or nothing" philosophy is that it gives you a chance to dabble and try new things. Then, because you’ve only invested a minimal amount of effort in getting started, you can painlessly stop if you find out it’s not quite as satisfying as you thought it would be. On the other hand, you may just find a new love in life!

    How about you – what’s your take? Do you only feel comfortable embarking on something new if you have a lot of time and energy to invest? Or, are you a dabbler, too?


  • All views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Bright Hub.
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