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Radical Incrementalism

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Last year, I read Oliver Burkeman’s incredible book Four Thousand Weeks. In it, he referenced the work of psychology professor, Robert Boice, whose research discovered that productive writers focussed on writing less. Doing little bits of writing, from 10 minutes to 4 hours a day meant less writing per day, but more writing overall. 

Burkeman catchily calls this approach to completing your projects ‘radical incrementalism.’

When we became parents, this phrase took on a new meaning. For my husband, it was a way to get his head around the tremendous backlog that was the consequence of six weeks of shared parental leave. For me, it was about breaking every task into something I could complete in 1 to 10 minutes.

B is a cuddly little fella. During these early weeks, he doesn’t much sleep unless he’s on top of me. And while this means I get lots of snuggle time in front of the tv, it makes getting dressed and eating something of a challenge. But slowly slowly, I am inching towards normalcy, realising that I can clothe, clean and feed both of us, if only in short bursts.

And it’s not just me and my husband. B’s world is growing, little by little, but it’s there. Each step is so small as to almost be indiscernible. But a cursory glance at photos and videos of him from even two weeks ago, demonstrates how much more he is engaging with the world each day, how much more curious he is and capable of expressing himself. 

So even though it sometimes feels like brushing my teeth today was a major win, it really is quite a marvel to witness the growth of this little human. The sacrifice I make in reducing my life to the basics, achievable in short bursts, allows him the space to expand his consciousness - that marvel of evolution, whose bare essence still eludes us. And all of this is achieved in what can only be described as truly radical increments.

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