A few years ago when we had our kitchen remodeled, we had a butcher block put in. The remodeler who did the work told me that the butcher block needed to be oiled. When I asked how often, he said something along the lines of “once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year, and then once a quarter thereafter.” (Disclaimer: I believe I personally dubbed this the “woodworker’s credo,” so don’t embarrass yourself by saying this to a real woodworker.)

You’re probably asking yourself, “What the heck does this have to do with a business blog?” Surprisingly, this little story comes up fairly regularly when I talk to folks about business. In fact, I have told it twice in the past two weeks.

This paradigm applies to many situations where something is new and needs some attention. In one case I was talking to someone who needed to start attending a new meeting series that required significant travel to attend in person. I explained my woodworker’s credo story and it helped her understand how to apply a similar pattern to the meetings by being physically present initially, but then gradually changing to attending more and more telephonically. In the other case it was somebody dealing with a new employee/supervisor relationship. For a while they had met on a weekly basis, but then discontinued their check-in meetings cold turkey, which was too abrupt of a change. I again told my butcher block story and discussed how this pattern might make a better transition and allow them to stay in touch and build upon the solid foundation they established from their weekly meetings.

The same pattern can appropriately be applied to many new situations. A few months ago I had some pretty serious back problems. As I completed the physical therapy regimen I asked the PT how often I needed to do these exercises. Up to that point he had me doing them twice a day. He told me that I could now start doing them once a day and then after a few weeks, go to five days a week and then slowly drop down to two or three times a week on an ongoing basis. I guess the woodworker’s credo is also the physical therapist’s credo!

I believe the same process can be used for just about any sort of training, whether that be physical or mental, personal or professional.  For example, it could be used to commit something to memory (say vocabulary or a new language) or master a new physical skill like learning to play an instrument.  You have to push yourself and practice/train every day for a period of time until you master the goal, and then you can decrease the frequency to a level that will allow you to retain the skill you gained.

My woodworker’s credo might be a simple little practice, but I hope you just might find it as handy as I have.