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Three Small Things Can Add Up to a Changed Life

Change your life by doing 3 simple things each day! I LOVE this practical advice!

Most of us want to change our lives… whether that means losing weight, getting healthier, finding a better job, paying off our debt, moving to a different town, developing better habits, becoming more disciplined, getting more organized, and so on.

Rarely is it possible to overhaul our lives overnight. Instead, change is often the result of small tweaks that happen over and over again for a long period of time.

Those little day in and day out things you do can add up to the major success over time. It’s hard to stick with it and it can feel daunting if you have so far to go to be where you want to be.

I was reading Laura Vanderkam’s new ebook (What the Most Successful People Do At Work) recently and she interviewed Chalene Johnson about her productivity and time management. I thought one thing that Chalene does was especially brilliant. She said that she makes yearly goals and then she challenges herself to do three small things every day to move toward those goals. She writes these three things down and she makes them a priority for her day.

That sounds so simple and doable, doesn’t it? And it means that every day — even if you only accomplish one of the three things — you’ve made a tiny step in the right direction.

If one of your goals this year is to pay off $5000 in debt, today you could:

1) Call and see if you can renegotiate a rate on one of your monthly bills.
2) List something on eBay or Craigslist.
3) Make dinner at home instead of going out.

If you’re working on getting up earlier, today you could:

1) Make a list of 3 things you want to do when you wake up in the morning.
2) Text a friend and ask if she’ll be your accountability partner.
3) Skip that 4 p.m. cup of coffee so you are able to wind down earlier.

If you’re trying to lose weight, today you could:

1) Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
2) Drink a glass of water instead of soda pop.
3) Eat a salad for lunch.

What is one of your big goals right now? What are three simple things you can do today to move you closer toward that goal?

photo from BigStock

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  • Great thoughts! One of my big goals is losing weight, and my small item I can do today is to order a bean burger, no bun, for lunch. (Hopefully I have the willpower to do it, and skip the molten chocolate lava cake I have a free coupon for.) 🙂 And drink a lot of water at work.

    • Crystal says:

      Maybe just throw out the coupon or share it with a co-worker? 😉

      • Keren says:

        Ha! Reminds me of a recent meme I saw on Pinterest: “MY DIET PLAN: MAKE ALL OF MY FRIENDS CUPCAKES; THE FATTER THEY GET THE THINNER I LOOK.” 🙂

        Obviously not what you’re really going for (or what Crystal was trying to say), but made me giggle! 🙂

        When you have something that you think you don’t have the willpower to do–try viewing it from the perspective that doing it/not doing it will be empowering! It is, and it can help you resist the next urge, too! (Not that I always put this into practice as much I should.)

  • Victoria says:

    I love this! Thinking like this is how I went from being an overwhelmed mom to a happy mom. We get so caught up with transformation we often forget to take a moment and enjoy the steps along the way, and it is those steps that make up our life.

    • Crystal says:

      You’re an inspiration to me with your small steps to big progress mentality!

    • Keren says:

      “Thinking like this is how I went from being an overwhelmed mom to a happy mom. We get so caught up with transformation we often forget to take a moment and enjoy the steps along the way, and it is those steps that make up our life.”

      Victoria, if you have a blog post on this specifically (didn’t see one when I checked your site), I’d love to see it and share it with other moms. I love the way your phrased this!

      • Victoria says:

        Sadly no I don’t. Some posts of Crystal’s just get me in a real reflective mood. Little does she know it but she is a great muse. I tend to write about money saving and time saving tips that moms can use to make room in their life to stop feeling overwhelmed, find balance and time for their passions. I know I could write more passionately from the heart but truthfully I find it gut wrenching; it leaves me such a mess emotionally that unless God truly lays it on my heart that a piece that goes deeper than tips, needs to be written, I stay away from it. I can’t stand letting my own kids see mommy being an emotional mess because she has been writing. Don’t worry though God is working on me more and more lately to let the hard ones to write out, so probably soon.

  • Small steps over time are so important because it not only makes the outcome but it also teaches us to be the person we are seeking to be. This is why quick fix solutions hardly ever last. It’s because we may get the end result but we don’t learn to be the end result person. Think of all those lottery winners that go bankrupt or the quick diet people that loose weight only to gain it back soon after. If we want to be successful in whatever it is we seek we must learn to be the person we want to be not just look like it!

  • Cathy says:

    I absolutely loved Chalene Johnson’s book PUSH. She went into a lot of detail about this goal-setting and it was very motivating.

  • A fan says:

    I watchd you last night and I thought your outfit was really cute. Your public speaking skills are improving. Work on looking at the audience. Also, you’ve got a really quite voice, so you’ll have to work at projecting it. I thought you did great and your confidence will grow with practice. Lysa just makes it look so easy, doesn’t she?

    • Crystal says:

      Yes, I definitely need to work on looking on the audience, not saying “you know”, and many, many other things. And just being more confident in general. 🙂

      It’s a slow process but I’m encouraged that little bit by little bit, as I’m keep putting myself out there and stepping outside my comfort zone, my comfort zone is moving. Two years ago, I would have run kicking and screaming from doing something like last night. So I’m trying to celebrate the small successes and keep working on the huge areas I need to improve in.

      Thanks so much for watching!

      • A fan says:

        Crystal, I’m sorry my comment was critical and wasn’t necessary. I didn’t mean to bring you down.

        • Crystal says:

          No worries at all! I appreciated the constructive criticism and it was exactly what I thought when I watched it, as well. 🙂

          • karen says:

            Crystal, I watched last night too, and I was IMPRESSED! I didn’t have any thoughts of “ooooh man, does she have a long way to go”. I am sure you can see room for improvement, but I wanted you to know that the way you presented yourself and your information in general was wonderful! Way to keep stepping out of your comfort zone!!

  • Marie says:

    I love the idea but still struggle finding the time. For example getting up earlier was suppose to help with exercise and quiet time and it hasn’t. I’ve been going to bed early by 9pm and still am struggling with feeling excessively tired all day and evening. I want to loose weight and even fill the fridge with healthy options but have zero motivation to eat at times. So I’m not sure what steps I could take because I feel like I am taking some and still not seeing any results.

    • kate says:

      Marie, if you are going to bed at 9pm and getting a full 7-9 hours of good sleep each night, your first step should be a trip to the doctor to have some blood work done. No one should be “excessively tired” every single day if they are getting enough sleep and their body is functioning properly. An off day here or there is one thing, every day is not.

      After that, try some of Crystal’s many many many suggestions on this site. Instead of trying to get up significantly earlier than usual, you can get up 10 minutes earlier. Adjust to that, and then do another 10 minutes. Have a plan for the AM. Make your list of “must dos” for the day. Reward yourself for success. Have an accountability buddy. Set a timer for each task. Take baby steps. Spend an hour poking around Crystal’s archives and you’ll find a ton of suggestions and motivation.

      As far as the food – try meal planning and see if that helps. Try chopping all your veggies when you get home from the store, so when you’re ready for a snack the carrots are ready to go and you don’t have to deal with the daunting task of peeling and cutting them. Try a new recipe or two. Take a cooking class. Maybe there are ways to make some of your old favorites healthier, rather than a complete re-vamp of your diet. If there’s a food that’s not your “thing,” don’t force yourself to eat it. I am not a big salad eater. Some people eat a salad for lunch every single day. To me, that sounds like torture. I have no problem polishing off a huge pile of cooked veggies with dinner, or snacking on carrots or whatever. But if I buy a head of lettuce because “I’m going to eat salad every day, because it’s HEALTHY,” half of it goes bad in the fridge. Figure out what works for you.

      And, figure out what exercise works for you. I don’t jog. I would never drag myself out of bed to jog. That’s worse than salad. But I found that I love Pilates and will happily head to a class twice a week. Oh, and speaking of exercise. Some people say that getting up and exercising in the AM makes them feel great and energized all day, and all that good stuff. Some people are nighttime exercisers (including myself). I can get home from the gym and crawl in to bed. Exercise makes me tired. I thought I was just weird, but one of my friends saw an article about it, and apparently it really is a thing.

      And, make sure you spend enough time outside. Now that the weather is warming up and it’s lighter longer, make sure you’re getting enough sunshine.

    • Sandy Blain says:

      Could you have a health problem? Anemia, thyroid, diabetes and other problems can have tiredness as a symptom. If you are getting plenty of sleep and still feeling excessively tired, you might want to consider getting it checked out. 🙂

      • Crystal says:

        I loved Kate’s advice and I definitely recommend getting checked out by a medical professional. It sounds like there might be some other issues going on here.

        I’m so, so sorry you’re feeling this way and hope you’re able to get some answers and help soon!

  • Our biggest goal is paying off our final debt, our mortgage, ASAP. I love this idea! I think this will keep me motivated and productive EVERY SINGLE DAY, helping me pay down the debt sooner! 🙂

  • I really agree that a big part of evaluating your success is asking yourself if you are moving in the right direction, even if it is a little bit at a time. For awhile now I have wanted to make quilts and use a fabric collection I inherited from my mom, but I never seemed to get around to it. Then the other night I decided I was just going to work on one square at a time, and suddenly I have found myself in my craft room a lot more.

  • Sarah says:

    Right now my biggest goal is to have “all my ducks in a row” so to speak before my second child is born. I was so overwhelmed after the birth of our first that my house was a disaster and I couldn’t seem to accomplish anything, including cooking dinner. This time around I want a clean, clutter free house and easy to prep or already prepared meals in the freezer.

    I have been slowly working toward this goal every day for months now. Every day I tackle a little bit of cleaning/decluttering (and the April Cleaning Challenge has really helped with keeping up with this) and make an effort to keep up with the areas that have been previously done. I have also been cooking extra dishes a few at a time and freezing them so we will have food at the ready when little one #2 arrives.

  • Losing weight for my wedding in August is my big goal. I’m holding myself accountable by engaging in a 60 day transformation and having my readers follow along with me. Having to post results daily will keep me on task. I regularly track my calories using Myfitnesspal and I make sure to drink at least 8 bottles of water a day. 🙂

  • Kimberly C says:

    The little steps really do make a difference! We are currently renting and saving for a down payment for a house. It’s amazing how small things can make a big difference in our budget…things like making homemade baby food, not ordering drinks when going out to eat, buying several household items from the dollar store, etc. It’s very motivating when there’s a tangible goal in sight.

  • Great post, Crystal!

    One of the best lessons I learned was when I read the book the Slight Edge several years ago. It talked about how the little decisions compound over time toward success or against it. I love this idea of listing three steps to take action every day toward the goals I set for the year. My main goal for the year is to be debt free except our home by this fall or sooner. I definitely need to clean out the basement and get my butt on eBay. I’m starting with your list today. 🙂


  • Or I could have the baby today. That would really help with #3. 😉 And #1, too, for that matter. Days of false labor are NOT good for sleep….

  • Stacey says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s reminding me to take one step at a time to reach my goal, which is to decrease my weekly grocery bill.

  • Hello – I love to set goals and achieving them is even better, right? 🙂 I agree so much that little things add up. I recently used extra bits of exercise throughout the day to get the lingering pregnancy pounds back off.

    Today, I am going to make 4 meatloaves and freeze two so I can start to fill our freezer with meals again. (we are a family of ten) Also, I am going to walk another mile later because I have a goal of doing a 10 mile fitness walk. Little steps but I know they will help.

    Thanks for the ongoing inspiration.

  • Elizabeth B. says:

    My husband and I just embarked on a campaign to “be better” for our family. He felt himself being too lazy and looking for ways to procrastinate. He has 3 goals for himself every day: 50 minutes of extra house/school work, no TV, and be in bed at 9:30. I found my health failing (again) and wasn’t making it a priority. So my 3 daily goals are: 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise or yoga, do all of my physical therapy exercises and take my meds, and be in bed at 9:30.

    We are doing well so far a week in!

  • Melissa says:

    I am juggling two very important goals at the moment.

    One is to pay down my two rather large student loans faster than the ten years they are issued for. The other is to keep decluttering our condo so that when we’re ready to move (hopefully next year) we will only have to pack and move the things that we love/use/need.

    Baby steps on the first goal that I can do (or have done) today are to pack lunches for both my husband and myself, make dinner at home (I’ve been terrible about this one this week for some reason which is strange, i’m normally very good about cooking dinner after work), and I can avoid going to my favorite discount store today even though I’ll be near it when I go to my doctor’s appointment because not going means I won’t buy anything and that saves money that can then be applied to extra payments on the loan.

    Baby steps on the second goal that I can do (or have done) on the second goal include getting the items I’ve already decided should leave our home out (today I remembered to take the silverware we are getting rid of to work and put it in the break room), I can make a few minutes to do a little more sorting when I get home, I can remember to recycle last week’s sale ads now that new ones will be in the mailbox today.

    • Melissa says:

      Okay, so 5 out of 6 baby steps aren’t bad! lol. I did all of my babysteps except a few minutes of sorting last night. Somehow it was like my clock was moving faster than normal and I ran out of evening in no time! 🙂

  • Michelle says:

    I always love these posts! They leave me feeling inspired and with a sense of vein able to accomplish three little thing! Thanks!

  • Kelly says:

    Great thoughts!

    I heard a SimpleMom podcast recently (I think called Hope for Depleted Moms?) and the guest talked about even breaking it down further. So, if your ultimate goal is to eat healthier, then maybe a sub-goal could be to eat a salad for lunch. So, what are 5 things you could do to start eating salad for lunch at some point this week?
    – chop up carrots in the fridge
    – put lettuce on shopping list
    – look up a recipe on pinterest for salad ideas
    – etc.

    The idea isn’t to just procrastinate, but by the time you are putting simple, easy, baby-baby steps on your to do list, it seems pretty easy!

    Thanks for reinforcing this idea! 🙂

  • The biggest thing that I’m working on right now is losing weight. Which I am almost down 30lbs since January. The 3 next steps I am planing on changing to continue losing is 1) start having a fruit/veggie shake with Toppfast in it 2) walking more and exercise everyday 3) eat more salad. I will also continue taking my ACE every morning and drink tons of water.
    Also by being a result of ACE it will help my growing SABA business and help with financial problems.

  • Amy says:

    I am pregnant right now and am really having trouble getting up early (before my children.) There are three things that I can do today to work toward this goal:
    1) List what my goal is (6:45 a.m.) and what I would like to do in the morning before they get up–exercise, shower, and devotion.
    2) Set out my exercise clothes.
    3) Go to bed as soon as I am able, and pray for God to help me get up and not be too tired!

  • Keren says:

    These are great thoughts for productivity, and viewing it in the grand scheme of things. Laura’s new book is up on my list to read, too!

    I recently read Zen to Done by Leo Babauta (, and he focuses on a similar concept of just having three to-do items each day. I’ve found this to be helpful as I’ve tried to implement this in recent weeks.

    But I think this concept takes it a step beyond in focusing it all (and keeping it minimalistic) in on the bigger picture–very helpful!

    Additionally, I think this also goes in on what Charles Duhigg wrote about in his book, “The Power of Habit.” (I think I recall you’ve read this?) He calls these keystone habits.

    Essentially, keystone habits are habits that create a chain-reaction in habit formation and make it easier to add new and related beneficial habits. They are the habits that matter most. For a good number of people, exercise is a keystone habit. (I wrote a little bit more about them here:

  • I love Chalene! Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing her simple and effective strategy!

    ~Abby =)

  • Victoria says:

    My goal is to grow my business! I work as a Realtor, strictly commission. It can be challenging at times, but I love it. I am actively trying to network, work on my web site and web leads.

  • Shelly says:

    I am working on reducing my weight. I don’t like to say losing weight because I don’t want to find it again. 🙂 I have been getting up early to exercise each morning. I am working on limiting my eating of seconds at all meals. I am also working on limiting my mindless eating. I am hoping with these three changes I make make big progress.

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