This is really how this happened. Let me back up a minute. I love to get to my clinic early, long before anyone else shows up. I set up my computer, put up my gym bag, unlock the door, turn on the lights and make a pot of coffee.

Before I make that pot of coffee, I need to retrieve water from the other side of the gym, where there is a sink. This is the coffee pot in our reception area so it brews several pots a day. I usually take just a few minutes to clean it up from the day’s residue.

On this particular day, it wasn’t too bad. I started just to do a quick rinse, thinking “this pot is clean enough, I’ll clean it another day.” But then this thought hit me — good enough just isn’t good enough. I’ll go back even further, maybe 50-plus years ago. One of my dad’s favorite bits of advice was “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

So back to this day: I took the few extra seconds to clean the pot. It is important to me for it to start the day clean. I believe people expect that. And that oh-so-simple little task made me think about those little things that we need to do every day.

I’ve heard a lot of coaches talk about the details. The right footwork. Consistency. Doing the little things right every time. In team sports, it is important for many reasons, but if you’re doing those little things, then you are more reliable as a teammate.

In individual sports, it can be just as important. Start out with the wrong step in tennis and you’re a half step slower getting to the ball. Don’t execute the turn just right in a swim meet and you might have lost the race. Step wrong in a long jump and you get disqualified. The little things.

I’m a big list maker. My chores at home start with a list. I will bust it hard on the weekend to get everything on that list done. My wife and I have a pretty good deal. She can put anything on the list she wants to but I get to prioritize it and nothing gets added once I get going.

I’m the same way at work. Somebody saw my laptop this week. On the perimeter of the keyboard are all these notes (to myself) about individual tasks that need to be done. Those are my high priority items.

On my desk (which, truth be known, is really just a countertop separating our clinic from our gym) you will find a rather large number of similar notes. Some have been there so long that they are worn and tattered. Those are either lower priority or projects without end.

When someone sees my desk, they might remind me that there are digital forms of post-it notes that I can put on my computer. I used to have one of those. It didn’t work for me. I need the physical act of peeling up one of those notes, wadding it up and throwing it in the trash. I get a lot of satisfaction from that.

What this gives me is a vehicle to remind me to take care of the details, to pay attention to the little things. It might be a call that I need to make or a thank you that I need to extend. Looking at it, I’m reminded to wear my black polo to the football jamboree, to order a new book on Amazon, to set up another meeting.

I don’t ignore the big things. I’m a “big picture” kind of guy. But I’ve learned that to accomplish the big things, you’ve got to do the little things. You’ve got to pay attention to the details.

Clean out the coffee pot? Here’s the thing — a grubby coffee pot might be how someone judges me, judges my office. So before I even see them, they might have formed an opinion about me or my clinic.

So … what are the little things in your life? What are the details of your day that deserve your attention?

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email to write to him.

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