paperclipsWhen I was 24 I was living in Vancouver Canada, and just down the road in the small town of Abbotsford lived a guy named Trent Dyrsmid. We were roughly the same age but did not know each other. I was in my last year of college while Trent had just landed his first job at a small bank working as a stock broker.

Like any young employee, Trent was looking to make his mark and impress his bosses by building up his book of accounts. This is a process that takes years of hard work and focus for any stock broker.  Being young is not an asset here, especially when you’re trying to convince people to let you invest their hard-earned money.

But despite the obstacles of his inexperience and the small pool of potential clients in his town, Trent defied the odds and within 18 months had $5,000,000 of business on the books, earning him $75,000/yr at age 24. As his success grew, outside firms began offering him jobs and he eventually took one which paid him a comfortable $200,000/yr.

So what was Trent’s secret? What helped him outperform many of his peers?

It was paperclips.

On Trent’s desk was a jar of 120 paperclips. Every morning he picked up the phone and began to make prospecting calls. As soon as he hung up the phone, he would remove one paperclip from the jar and place it in a second jar which was also on his desk. He would not stop making phone calls until he had moved all 120 paperclips from one jar to the other.

Trent’s paperclips are a brilliant example of a simple performance system. Here’s why it worked and how you can benefit by creating something similar for yourself.

  1. It kept him focused on his Most Important Activities (MIA)

Success hinges on mastering the fundamentals. The problem is, many of the fundamentals are tedious. Not many people want to make 120 prospecting calls every day, but everyone wants to be offered the $200,000/yr. job.

The key is to be crystal clear on the few activities that lead to your success. What are your Most Important Activities or MIA’s? Once you identify them, put a stretch goal in place to help you stay on task. Throughout the day we are all faced with many temptations that threaten to compromise our effectiveness. Identify your MIT’s and then stick with them until you finish. While Trent was making his calls, he didn’t check the news or let himself be drawn away to do other things.

  1. It gave him a visual cue to gauge his progress.

Trent’s simple two-jar system gave him a visual source of feedback on his progress. The paperclips provided a goal, but they also carried with them tiny rewards. Every phone call provided an opportunity to move a paperclip and with it came a small win. Slowly filling up the second jar also has a snowball effect on personal motivation, as each paperclip builds on the one before. Consistent reinforcement helps you stick with tedious tasks.

So what visual system could you install to keep yourself focused on your MIA’s? Paperclips in jars work great, or you could try pieces of candy except instead of moving them you eat them. This, of course, could be dangerous and may lead to problems which require other goals such as more sit-ups.

Imagine how installing this one simple practice might dramatically change your business and your life. As I always say in my leadership keynotes, “It’s the little things that count. Excellence is found in 1,000 tiny steps.”