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The Bread Baking Test

Apr 12, 2021
Hands pruning greenery


One of the biggest differences between sane, successful business owners and business owners who are overwhelmed and scraping by is this: 

Successful and sane business owners use the Bread Baking Test.

Let me explain.  

Bread Baking projects are like baking a loaf of bread. They may be necessary. They may even be satisfying, in that you can immediately see the delicious results. But soon after you bake a loaf of bread, it needs to be done again. If you spend 30 minutes on a Bread Baking project, you DO get the immediate results of those 30 minutes -- but nothing else.

Garden Bed Projects are like building a garden bed. They may be a lot of work. They may give you nothing right away. But after you build a garden bed, you don’t have to do it again, and you’ll get results and benefits from it for a long time. If you spend 30 minutes on a Garden Bed task, you may not get immediate results, but you’ll get results worth way more than the time you put in, again and again, over the long term.

Most things we do in business are Bread Baking projects. We write one Instagram post and almost immediately, we need to write another one. We package one order and there’s another waiting. We respond to one customer email and we have one person taken care of, but no more. We put in 30 minutes and we get exactly 30 minutes of benefit from that time.

But there are things in business that are Garden Bed projects. So instead of taking 30 minutes to write one email, maybe you spend 3 hours writing a customizable email template, getting the wording and formatting perfect. And then that saves you 30 hours over the course of the next year -- in time writing emails from scratch but also because the quality of those emails is better and the consequences more in line with our intention.

So the Bread Baking Test is simple: gently ask yourself whether any given project is a Bread Baking project or a Garden Bed project. Everyone will have different answers. And regardless of your answer, you still may need or want to do the project or task. But your business will only succeed over the long term if you find ways of doing Garden Bed projects when possible and when appropriate. 


Examples of Garden Bed projects:

  • Setting up email marketing flows in your business (for instance for new orders, new signups to your mailing list, or others.) 
  • Creating a template for outreach to stores, media, and others that you can personalize but don’t have to write from scratch each time. 
  • Using automations with tools like Zapier to do small things automatically that you’d otherwise do manually 
  • Hiring help


Examples of Bread Baking projects:

  • Writing an Instagram post
  • Writing a blog post
  • Responding to a customer support email
  • Shipping out an order


Let’s pause here for a nerd moment. There is a mathematical foundation to this and it has to do with compound interest. 

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.” - Albert Einstein (reportedly, and possibly apocryphally) 

You’re probably aware of the age-old riddle. If I offered you EITHER $1 million dollars OR a penny, which would you take? You’d take the million dollars, of course. 

What if I then offered you $1 million dollars OR a penny today, but promised you two pennies tomorrow, four pennies the next day, and I kept doubling those pennies for a month. Most people would STILL choose the $1 million. But they’d be wrong -- the pennies double every day for a month and at the end of the month, they are worth more than $5 million dollars. What’s interesting to note, though, is that most of that growth comes in the last few days (when $1 million doubles to $2 million and $2 million doubles to $4 million, etc.). The reason for this is that the money compounds -- the doubling adds to itself as time goes on (rather than starting over each day.) We see this effect in retirement savings, mortgages, credit card interest, and many other cornerstones of our financial world.

Similarly, the power of investing in your business with Garden Bed projects is that the effects compound. When you set up an automated series of thoughtful and interesting emails for your customers, it’s like paying yourself one penny. But it compounds. As more customers come in the door, each one goes through the same email series with no additional work from you. Each of those is more likely to spread the word to other customers because they are more informed and more thrilled with their purchase -- and each of the people referred by them go through the email marketing flow with no additional work from you. Plus, you are able to spend that time on other Garden Bed projects, further compounding the effects. So it becomes like a snowball (another compounding example), gathering force and speed without extra time from you.


Some little-known secrets about Garden Beds and Baking Bread:

  • Garden Bed projects are often less satisfying than Bread Baking Projects. (Despite how impactful they are.) You spend all the work and money to set up the garden bed (much more work and money than baking a loaf of bread) and you get no vegetables at first -- or even for weeks or months. Like we looked at above -- the pennies grow very, very slowly at first. And much of the benefit comes later, all at once.
  • Bread baking projects are also immensely valuable. These things of life and business can and should be done with intention, care, and love. But if we fill our workdays with only bread baking, it will be hard to grow and we will eventually burn out. 
  • When we get stressed, we go father in the direction of bread baking. My observation has been that the busier and more stressed you get, the more you hunker down, only doing tasks that will give you immediate results. It’s kind of like burning the furniture for warmth, though. Make sure it’s totally necessary to focus so short term, because otherwise you’ll look around a year from now and be sorry.
  • One Mill School is structured around Garden Beds, not Bread Baking. We orient our One Mill School classes around things that will create assets for our business owners, compound in some way, and help them build over the long term: visioning; online marketing; hiring, etc. The reason for this is two-fold. First, many business owners struggle to focus in these directions on their own, so it’s especially valuable if we provide that support. Second, it is the way that we can be sure that $100 spent with us yields $1,000 or $10,000 for each person’s business (rather than simply $100)-- which is exactly where we want to be. 


So the next time you sit down to work on your business, put your project to the Bread Baking Test, asking, “Is this a Bread Baking Project or a Garden Bed Project? If I spend an hour on this, will it give me back more than the hour I put in?”

Bread needs to be baked. And customer emails need to be responded to. But start finding places where you can build garden beds -- even a little bit at a time. And you’ll start to see your business transform. Not right away. But slowly, over the long term, and gorgeously -- just like a garden.


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