Screw the Small Stuff. Focus on the Big Wins.

climb flag I’m lazy, busy, and easily distracted.

I don’t like counting calories.

I don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym.

I could spend all day online and get absolutely nothing accompli…HEY LOOK A BUTTERFLY!

Do any of those things sound like you?  

How about this one? “I freak out over tiny details and agonize over small decisions.”

Or this?  “I spend all my time deciding WHAT to do in the gym and don’t ever do it”

Maybe this? “I work out for hours but I’m not seeing any results.”

Don’t worry, my dear Rebel friend. I’ve got you covered; today I want to share with you the concept of Big Freaking Wins. I’ve used this concept to fix my diet, streamline my workouts, and revolutionize my productivity.

Ultimately, I’ve leveled up my life in three big ways.

And I’m going to share with you exactly how I did it.

The Pareto Principle

80 20

If you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a while, you know that I have man crushes on am a big fan of guys like Tim Ferriss (who I interviewed here) and Ramit Sethi

In The Four Hour Workweek, Tim introduced me to a concept called the Pareto Principle;  The concept is that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your effort…so focus on the 20% (getting 80% of the results) rather than driving yourself crazy aiming for 100%.  If you can identify what that 20% is for the actions you take throughout the day, you can eliminate a lot of the minutiae, busy work, and retake your life.

In I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit introduced me to the concept of big wins.  Rather than creating a budget that tracks every penny (something that would drive me crazy), or saving a buck by not buying Starbucks, instead he taught me to put the focus on big wins: negotiating no fees from my bank, saving $2400 off my rent for the year, and automating my finances to set up a savings account and contribute to my IRA without having to think about it.

It’s funny: two books with titles that sound like “get rich quick” schemes are actually two of the most influential and helpful books I have ever read. They taught me to focus on big wins that produce the biggest results:

  • Thanks to my buddy Barron Cuadro, I’ve recently overhauled my wardrobe. I’ve donated half of my old clothes (which made me look like a broke college kid) and picked up a few key items, getting me one step closer to becoming a goofier version of James Bond 🙂
  • I 80/20’d my kitchen!  After traveling for 2 years, I rejoined society last fall.  Instead of buying something for every single situation, I bought the 20% of kitchen utensils and appliances that I use for more than 80% of my meals…less clutter, more counter space, and more time.
  • I 80/20’d my video games.  Although I would love to play every game that comes out, I’ve narrowed down the games I spend the majority of time to one genre: single-player Action/Adventure games like Batman, Zelda, God of War, and Assassin’s Creed.  They have an ending, don’t overtake my life, I can play them at my own pace, and I don’t have to get called derogatory terms by 12-year olds online. So, that’s a win.
  • I 80/20’d my friends!  Okay so maybe not REALLY, but think about it.  I bet the more time you spend with the FEW people that you truly care about will make you happier than scattering your time across dozens of acquaintances.

Here’s how you can do the same with your diet, workouts, and work.

Diet Big Wins


Counting calories can be a challenge for people:

Not everybody wants to pull out their phone every time they eat a calorie and look up the food and track it.

For somebody that is brand new to trying to improve their life, counting calories can put them on the fast track to getting overwhelmed, turned off, or focusing on the wrong thing (instead of eating REAL food).

Along with that, I’ve seen people become slaves to their calorie counts, agonizing over every bite, weighing every morsel of food, and freaking out if they go five calories over their allotment for the day.

They spend twenty minutes in the grocery store reading the back of two identical types of food deciding if the five calories saved here or there is worth it.

This is not an effective use of our time.  Hopefully you’ve learned by now that not all calories are created equal; not all changes will produce the same effect on our bodies.  Certain decisions will create bigger changes than others. Here are some big win examples:

  • Cut out liquid calories.  Rather than agonizing over reduced calorie foods which taste like crap, or agonizing over that peanut M&M you ate, make ONE change – commit to no soda and liquid calories, and then occasionally eat something less healthy without freaking out.
  • Skip a meal!  Worried about total calories for the week? Maybe skip a meal.  We’ve discussed the concept of Intermittent Fasting at length.
  • Each meal needs to have a serving of fruit or vegetables.  Make a commitment to yourself that you’ll eat a vegetable with every meal.

If drastic diet changes have failed for you in the past, try picking ONE big change that kick starts the process, one change that’s permanent, one change that builds momentum for further progress.

Exercise Big Wins

Lego weight

Whenever I tell somebody who’s unfamiliar with Nerd Fitness about what I do, I usually get a response like:

“Oh, you should talk to my friend.  He’s a personal trainer and a huge gym rat. He works out ALL the time and is a fitness fanatic, you guys would totally get along.”

Here’s the thing: I probably have VERY little in common with that guy.  I’m in the gym for 45 minutes to an hour, three times a week.  That’s it.  My goal is to actually spend the LEAST amount of time in the gym as possible, so I can get back to the rest of my life (playing Batman Arkham City and reading Jack Reacher books in my underwear).

Speaking of Batman, we know and love superheroes for just a few big things that make them great — a few big things that define who they are and why they are awesome. You don’t see Wolverine worrying about how to fly, Black Widow trying to acquire super strength, or the Hulk trying to become a master assassin. These heroes focused on a few big wins and didn’t worry about the rest.

Where is your focus?  If you want to be a better runner, build your routine around running. If you want to be a better swimmer, build your routine around swimming.  If you try to lose weight, build muscle, get more flexible, be a better cyclist, run a marathon and also do yoga and swim 3x a week…you’re gonna get overwhelmed, and you’re gonna have a bad time.

Right now, I’m currently following a strength and muscle building routine to further my status as a real life super hero.  Note: this workout would be no different if I was trying to lose weight; the adjustment would be in my diet.

Every workout has three main moves:

  • A leg move: Front squats or Romanian Deadlifts (Why these moves? They’re better for my back)
  • A push movement: Overhead barbell press, dumbbell press
  • A pull movement: Weighted chin ups or inverted rows

Sometimes the gym is way too crowded, or I need to rush back and get to a meeting: life gets in the way occasionally.  So, I make sure I complete my three BIG moves for the day.  If I have extra time, I might throw in some complimentary exercises (chest flys, bicep curls, tricep extensions), but if I don’t have time for that stuff, I don’t mind.

When you work out, focus on the BIG wins.    Instead of worrying about number of sets and reps to sculpt your arms, or how to target the different parts of your abs…focus on big compound movements that work as many muscles as possible. Focus on getting stronger on just the big stuff.

  • Instead of doing 3 ab exercises, a lower back exercise, a glute exercise, a quad and hamstring exercise, and then calf exercise, do four sets of 5 reps of heavy barbell squats (yup, ladies too).  In ONE exercise, in 8 minutes, you just worked out every single muscle from your core downward.
  • Instead of doing three types of bicep curls, lat pull downs, and core work, do chin ups or pull ups (or these if you can’t do chin ups yet).

Pick the movements that hit the greatest number of muscles, and make sure you don’t miss those in your workout.  If something comes up during your day and you only have 20 minutes to work out, instead of stressing about the small stuff and skipping your workout, get your big wins in and get the hell outta there!

Work Big Wins


You can use this same concept to give your productivity at work an instant boost:

Is your to-do list a million things long?

Do you cherry pick the easy stuff on the list all day long to put off doing the big tasks that you’re avoiding?

Do you struggle to get things done at work, even though it seems like you’re busy all day long?

I know I used to do all of those things, until I started focusing on big wins.  Before my day starts, I write down on a post-it note the three big wins I need to complete in order for me to have a productive day.  Generally for me its:

  1. Write a draft of a Nerd Fitness article.
  2. Spend one hour on a business development project.
  3. Put an hour into Rising Heroes work.

Notice there isn’t any email or meetings in there.  I think to myself: “If I only had time to do three things today, what three things would make the greatest impact on Nerd Fitness and help people live better lives?”

Try doing the same thing.

What two or three big things would turn your day into an accomplishment?

Write these things down, and plan your day around them.  Get at least one of those things done before you get bogged down in Email-land and Meetings-world (both of which would make for absolutely terrible Super Mario Bros. levels).  Stop doing the unimportant time-wasters to avoid moving forward on the goals that actually produce results.

Work smarter


Where can you introduce the concept of big wins into your life?

How can you work smarter, not harder, so that you can get back to living the rest of your life?

I want to hear from you.

It’s been a while since we gave away a Nerd Fitness shirt, so let’s do it today.  I want to know what your big wins are for today:

  • 1 Big Win for your Diet. What’s one change that you can make that will impact your waistline the most?
  • 1 Big Win for your workout. What’s one exercise you make sure you won’t miss in your workout today?
  • 1 Big Win for your work.  What’ the one big win you have on your list for today that will further your career or business?

Simply leave a comment with one thing for each, and we’ll pick a winner at random.  You must submit a comment by 11:59PM EST on August 28th. BIG FREAKING WINS!



photo source:  8020, lego, flagpole, cookies, office, focus

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    228 thoughts on “Screw the Small Stuff. Focus on the Big Wins.

    1. Big diet win: stopped coffee a month ago…sugar last week….all refined and processed foods yesterday. Progressive big changes.
      Big workout win: after two hip replacements I realized that ago strength was my number one goal. I bought some free weights and I have a 15 minute routine 3x per weekfrom a book titled Strong Women Stay Thin. I can do this.
      Big work win: still in the works. I have two massage offices. Planning to pare down each practise to two days a week per site. More free time for me…not for video games but to learn Biblical Hebrew!

    2. Hey Steve, hello from Brazil!

      1. Big Win for my diet: Keep away sugar and gluten from my daily diet (I already eat loads of vegetables and some fruit, drink unsweetened coffee and tea whenever cravings strike me, drink tap water and hate soda and greasy stuff – all thanks to my mom!)
      2. Big Win for my workout: Exercise daily, no matter how, nor the time, nor how long. (I’m following your advice from Beginner Body Weight Workout: Burn Fat, Build Muscle)

      3. Big Win for my work: include daily study routine to reach my carreer goal – what’s important practically all the time is left behind by urgent non-important stuff.

      I love your way of making things practical and easy, thanks for Nerd Fitness!


    3. 1: Get enough sleep
      2: Get enough sleep.
      3: Get enough sleep. That last one is a killer, though.

    4. I was very successful with after work training. I stopped at the gym on the way home as to not have any distractions before the workout was completed. Great plan.

    5. Big win for today, completed 9 mile long run for week 3 of training for a trail half. And I’m still walking straight.

    6. Diet: No more shopping the vending machine at work.
      Work: Side by sides with my agents.
      Workout: Any workout at this point, even just a walk.

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    8. 1 Big Win for your Diet. making sure that the only food I eat is something that I have prepared myself and that it’s 100% Paleo
      1 Big Win for your workout. I got up this morning and ran 10kms and I’m probably going to run another 5 this afternoon for my moment of clarity
      1 Big Win for your work. For work I’m going to prioritise all the super urgent jobs (for the morning) and then crunch out the less important ones this afternoon.

    9. The Hulk probably already worries enough about the powers he DOES have. 😛

    10. I’ve certainly heard a lot about the Pareto Principle, but I still really loved reading this article. Keep up the good work, Steve.

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