How One Small Habit Adds Up

What goal could you reach if you’d take one small step a day? Can small habits really add up to big results?

How one small habit adds up

Moving to Overload

I’m sitting at the kitchen table at 8 a.m. My biscuit is hot on the plate. I open my Kindle to read while I eat breakfast. I am tempted to click on my favorite book of the week, whatever that may be.

But today, instead, I click on “Samples.”

It’s the folder I set up on my Kindle to store all the Kindle samples I send myself from Amazon. When you recommend a book to me, or I see your excitement over a book on your own blog, I head to Amazon, click on “Send a free sample,” and transfer it to my Samples folder when it arrives.

Send a free sample to Kindle

And there the samples have been sitting. Piling up, one after the other.

For years I’ve been adding sample after sample to my Kindle. I would occasionally read one right away, sometimes several in a row.

But not often. And the samples kept coming.

I was adding more books to the Samples folder faster than I was eliminating them.

It was a small habit. But it was adding up to overload.

Until 2021. . . 

One New Small Habit

A year ago, I had 368 samples on my Kindle.
Today, I have 89.

What changed?

The smallest of things.

I made a plan at the beginning of the year. I would read two samples a day, six days a week, and clear out the Samples folder. 

If I find the book quite interesting, I’ll transfer it to my Borrow folder and look it up at the library. If I find it irresistible, I’ll transfer it to my Buy folder for purchasing.

And if I don’t like the sample at all? I’ll delete it and that will be the end of it. I only have a limited amount of time left in my life to read a limited amount of books. I need to be picky.

But the decision to read two samples a day included a caveat: Read the samples before reading other books (well, not counting my daily Bible reading and my daily devotional from Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go). But the samples were to be read before library books. Before books to review. Before books I’m studying.

I’m now in Month 7. I haven’t followed the plan perfectly, of course.

Yet I’ve followed it often enough that the strategy is working. And it makes me happy.

It’s a small habit.

But small habits can create big results.

Celebrate Small Beginnings

One of my favorite Bible verses is Zechariah 4:10:

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. . . .”

Here’s the context. The Lord was sending a vision to the prophet Zechariah through an angel. The vision was assuring Zechariah that the Jewish people under Joshua and Zerubbabel would be successful in building the temple. Every obstacle would be defeated, even if only a little at a time.

I’ve had many small beginnings in my life, many small habits, many small goals I’ve wanted to reach.

And it’s usually only little by little when I succeed. The Lord stands alongside me as we go, one small step at a time.

I don’t always finish strong—and sometimes I don’t finish at all—but the Lord always rejoices to see the work begin.

Whittling down the Samples folder on my Kindle may indeed be a very small thing, but it is another reminder to me of the bigger principle:

God isn’t impressed by the smallness or largeness of my goals, but instead values my perseverance in tending to them.

Even if only little by little.

One small habit at a time.

What small habit do you keep? How has it added up? Share in the comments.

I’m linking at these blogs

44 thoughts on “How One Small Habit Adds Up

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do get your blog, Martha, and enjoy it! But not through email; I subscribe to it via Feedly. That’s the easiest way for me to see all the blogs I follow at a glance and get their latest content. I occasionally have to “clean house” with Feedly as well when the unread blogs start piling up there. 🙂

  1. Lynn

    That is a very organized way to go through your book recommendations! I have had habits for setting my day that have helped me take those small steps to complete projects or at least get going on projects! Once in a while (like now) I am tweaking the habits as I do like variety and need to mix things up a bit to stay motivated. But I am with you! Creating habits is so important for us to move forward with those projects God is asking us to do!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Sounds like you are a habit person like I am, Lynn. 🙂 I like to mix things up a bit too, especially when I stall out on a certain project. Sometimes I’ll just tell myself…spend 5 minutes, just 5 minutes…to touch a project again. Then I usually will end up spending more than 5 minutes. ha.

  2. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, you make an excellent point. I’m an “all or nothing person,” (read: perfectionist!), and usually end up doing nothing, because “all” is so very overwhelming. Michael has the “15-minutes-a-day” theory, for example, of one way to declutter. Apparently, it’s the steadfast small that can add up to the breathtaking big. At least you show here it’s possible. I have a little saying that I NEED TO EMPLOY! “Little by little with steadfast committal.” You inspire me to tackle the 40-million emails in my inbox by scrolling to the bottom and reading and ACTING on a small number daily. AND I should just unsubscribe (and have at times) to a lot of stuff I just don’t read (anymore or ever)! Your blog, however, will not be among those. I always appreciate your insights, research, and inspiration!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      My apologies, but I guess I’m Team Michael on this one, Lynn! lol. Years ago I began subscribing to the Flylady philosophy of “a little is better than none.” It’s served me well in many areas. I don’t have much clutter around the house, for instance, but I also haven’t done any deep cleaning in awhile! So it has its drawbacks. 🙂 I have a “To Do” folder in my email that has gotten overgrown too like your inbox. I try to delete a few every Friday, but I think I need to just dump it all one day! 🙂

      1. Cindy Davis

        Love the Flylady! I used to follow her and since I have moved into my house (5 years ago!) haven’t set new zones…so haven’t kept up as I should. I say should because her ways work 🙂

  3. Lisa Blair

    That’s actually a great idea for dealing with book recommendations, Lisa. I like the idea of a Kindle sampler folder.

    Congratulations for wiping out 279 samplers!

    Thanks for the encouragement for this overriding principle, “God isn’t impressed by the smallness or largeness of my goals, but instead values my perseverance in tending to them.”

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Lisa. I’ll just have to stay on top of the samples because I’m continuing to add new samples even as I get rid of old ones. 🙂 I just have to make sure I’m eliminating more than I’m adding. lol.

  4. Linda Stoll

    Sample folder.

    Never even crossed my mind!

    Thanks for paving the way to something a bit new … and for showing us how to do it well, friend. I’ve just shared your story on LinkedIn.


  5. Suzette K.

    Lisa, thanks for sharing your system. 2021 Small habit – This year I went back to a hard copy planner. A $5 item from the Family Dollar (with stickers, yay!). I had too many folders, notes, and unsaved calendar entries here and there to keep my writing, work, and caregiving things straight. I record my weekly tasks, appointments, and goals and tic them off throughout the week. I schedule SM/Blog posting on the monthly calendar in the same planner. It turns out old-school still works for me.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, a hard copy planner sounds very refreshing, Suzette! I used to live by one for years and it worked just fine. Now that I have everything digital, I wonder if I’ve just created more work for myself. ha. There are still some things that work best the old-school way. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yep, those little “rules” can make a big difference when we stick with them! It’s the “sticking with them” part that I have to stay disciplined with. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I can’t say for every book, but the “Look Inside” info is often very similar to the sample so you may be getting the bulk of the preview there too. I just like the Samples because I can pile them up to read later on my Kindle. Thus the problem I created for myself! 🙂

  6. Barbara Harper

    It’s nice to get small steps done on projects. When I clean out or reorganize something, it’s usually a drawer or shelf at a time. The thought of taking *everything* out of a closet and redoing the whole sounds exhausting.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m with you, Barbara. I’m more of a “drawer at a time” cleaner as well. I get overwhelmed when the project is too large. I need baby steps. 🙂

  7. Lois Flowers

    Lisa, this is so inspiring. Talk about eating an elephant one bite at a time! Good for you to keep up with this small habit … the results speaks or themselves. What comes to mind for me is something Randy and I have just started—doing a plank exercise right before bed to build core strength. We started with 20 seconds and have been adding one second a night. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but phew. I want to quit every second, but so far, so good. I’m hoping we can keep it up and eventually notice some results. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Abs of steel…I see those coming your way, Lois! 🙂 I love what you and Randy are doing. You encourage me to at least stick with my 3-times-a-week workout. Some days aren’t as invigorating as others, but I think the consistency has to count for something. 🙂

  8. Jean Wise

    wow love this. First the peek into your samples idea. I do like that and now how you manage it. wow, love that idea. I too borrow from the library first – what a gift the libraries are for us. But the best thing about this post is that Bible verse from Zachariah. Those words jumped into my heart and will be written into my journal.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, were it not for the library, I’m certain I would not be the reader I am. From my earlier memories, I’ve been a heavy library user. I’d love to see the number of books I have checked out through the years, and now the ebooks too! 🙂 Glad the Zechariah verse is meaningful to you too. I’ve held it close for quite awhile.

  9. Maryleigh

    I love the small things concept – it’s one of my favorite scriptures, too. I started Ben Hur this summer with the small things approach – at least one chapter a day! I’m over halfway through Les Miserable with that approach. If I look at the whole, it gets rather discouraging – one chapter at a time! Sometimes it’s how I get through a day!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s exactly how I made it through Les Miserable too, Maryleigh! It took me a LOT of months to finish it at my slow rate, but the steady turtle wins the race. And it was SO worth it when I finally finished. You’re so right…sometimes this is also how we can get through a day. 🙂

  10. Jerralea Winn Miller

    Samples! Oh my! I didn’t know … thanks for sharing.

    I totally agree with your philosophy of starting small.

    For instance, I just learned from Minimal Mom to start small with decluttering: set your timer for 5 minutes and day and get rid of what you can do in that time slot.

    Now I’m giddy with two new ideas!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Samples are the best, Jerralea! 🙂 Sometimes you can get the gist of the book just from the sample too, which is really nice. lol. I haven’t heard of Minimal Mom but she sounds right up my alley. I have to tackle so many projects just a few minutes at a time or I feel overwhelmed.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Funny thing about my Samples…today I noticed the count is back up to 92 because I’ve been adding more than 2 a day lately. lol. But that’s not usual, so hopefully I’ll see the number continue to decrease again as the year goes on.

  11. Lisa Jordan

    Often we think small won’t add up to much, but when you stay with it, you will see wonderful results. My small thing is getting in a daily 30-minute workout. My joints feel better. My brain feels better. And it’s great for my heart. There are days, though, when I dread that workout. However, when I stay with it, I still feel better when it’s over.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s a great example, Lisa. I try to work out 3 days a week, so I admire you for doing it daily. I always feel better after a workout (you’d think I’d learn to do it more often then! lol).

  12. Joanne

    What a wonderful solution! I do think small daily habits are sometimes hard to develop but once I do they make my life so much easier or better. Thanks for sharing with us at Encouraging Hearts and Home. Pinned.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Joanne. Those small habits are usually the ones that help me with long-term projects that seem too overwhelming otherwise. Small bites are usually just right for me. 🙂

  13. Cindy Davis

    What kind of Kindle do you have? I don’t know that I have a lot of samples on my Kindle but I have over 1200…some that are mine, my kids, my husbands…but I don’t even know what all is there. I started a few months ago trying to organize them on Goodreads and spent a few days in a row for about an hour cataloging them…but then stopped and I still don’t know what all is there. I need to employ this habit to get it done! Maybe just 5-10 (or Flylady’s method 15) minutes a day until it is finished. I would delete the books I knew we were done with or never going to read…

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