The Lost Art of Getting it Done Without Going Too Deep

Many years ago, in a place far, far away, there was a boy raised by two families. Ok, scratch that. It sounds too much like the beginning of a Star Wars movie. I was a blessed child. I would get up every morning and have breakfast at my house. I’m not talking about cereal and milk, but a country breakfast: eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, and all the trimmings. I loved that time in my life. Of course, there were unpleasant memories. Although few, they were burned into my memory. I love to sleep. More appropriately, I love to sleep in. I’m not lazy. I just like to start a little later in the day. I would be in peaceful slumber, and here is what would happen.

It was Eddy Arnold. He was a yodeling cowboy, county singer, and he had a show on WIVK radio at 6am. I could be in a sleeping nirvana, and I would hear “Hoo hoo hooahoo hoo, singing my cattle call…” Oh, I can still hear it. Then my mom’s footsteps would start in the distance, then get ever closer to my bed and her touch, time to get up, time to eat. Forget that extra five minutes to escape sleep’s grasp. My mom was kind, but she was relentless. I would get up and get dressed, eat breakfast, and go to my grandparents’ house. Once at my grandparents’, the breakfast ritual continued.

My grandfather would come home (you remember Boss). Boss and I would sit down for—you guessed it—breakfast. My Granny would say, “You haven’t eaten anything. I need to put some meat on those bones (knowing full well my mom was an awesome cook)! It was on that day that I would pry open one of the mysteries of life; an observation that would change my and Boss’s perspective on life at its very core.

On the back of Granny’s Sears and Roebuck cook stove was a an old JFG coffee can. Nothing special about this can. It just always sat there. She would pour all the bacon grease and sausage grease in it every morning, and then use that magic substance for all kinds of purposes. If I had a sunburn, she would scoop out a little of this potion from the can and put it on me! If I had a scrape or scratch, she would administer it in kind. It was her go-to for everything you could imagine. (Come too think of it, this could be the reason the dogs liked me so much!)

I was sitting down while watching my Granny cook one morning, when I asked Boss, “How long you and Granny been married?” Being a smart man and in direct ear shot of her he said, “Not long enough!”  I leaned into him and asked, “How long has that JFG coffee can been on the back of the stove?” I could usually get a quick response, but he only looked at the can calculating and contemplating my question. “As long as I can remember.'”  (The one thing you could count on was his memory. It was like a steel trap). “You ever see her clean it out? Start from scratch? Empty it out and start anew?” Without hesitation he replied, “Nope!”

Just about that time, we both realized that this can possibly held grease that was over 30 years old! As my Granny picked up her spoon to get some for seasoning, he said, in a low but somber voice that only I could only hear, “I hope she doesn’t go too deep.” From that day forward, we had a bond that completed our relationship! Whenever we would come to something both of us did not understand we would say, “Don’t go too deep!” It was our special moment.

Leaders sometimes fall into the “going too deep” philosophy of life. They burn up their time and energy crop dusting at low altitude instead of taking the 50,000 foot view of overall planning. Here are some simple rules about doing more with less:

Define Your Goals.

Before committing to the next activity, take some time to define your goals. Clarity does matter! You have to be concise about what you want to achieve within a day, not within your career. The very reason why you are involved in so many tasks might be that you are too consumed with a long term goal? As a result, you try to do as many things as possible in order to justify your progressive march (you’re going too deep!) Conversely, if the tasks you execute do not contribute to the progress towards the desired short-term destination, then there is no sense to keep on doing them. Define your goals and eliminate the tasks that have no value. Do less with full concentration and commitment. Do what matters. It is not only fine to do less, but it is a strong prerequisite of attaining goals faster.

Prioritize Your Tasks.

Now that you understand the trap of setting your goals too long-term (too deep), you are able now to realize what tasks and activities have the biggest impact on the progress toward desired short-term results. Identify the critical tasks that are vital for success. Build a road map that you can refer to every time you doubt what to do next.—just recognize that it should not be a cow path! See last blog. You need to have a clearly-defined vision of how you are going to attain your goals. Having a blueprint is crucial, so design an SOP (Standard Operating Prerequisite). Otherwise, you risk jumping between the random activities that will do nothing, but distract you from things that matter and take too much of your time.

Flex Your Involvement Muscle.

Many of us really suck at saying “No” to people. The reason for this is we do not want to seem rude or disinterested. Every time someone asks for help, it doesn’t require a “Yes!” in the response. Eventually, after several yeses, you end up showing your commitment towards things that matter most to other people and not for you. As a result, you spend your most precious asset, time, executing things that have nothing to do with your own goals. Therefore, it is crucial to learn to say “No.” You can be sure it will not sound rude if you say that you already have another commitment and do not have any time to contribute right now. This magic word is going to save you a lot of time and let you focus on what matters most to your mission. This doesn’t mean you can’t get resources diverted to important suggestions that will lead to success. It just means that they don’t require your direct involvement.

Cut Your To-Do List.

No doubt, there will be things on your list that you need to get done. However, it is probable that you will also have a lot of tasks sitting there that you can get rid of. First, prioritize the tasks that are not urgent or that can be delegated to talented team members. This will relax some time constraints and let you work at a normal pace. Secondly, don’t get too deep. Identify the tasks you are not good at. Designate some tasks to your go-to person, that team member who has exceptional knowledge in that field and will enjoy the execution of the assignment. You do not have to do everything. Learn to have designated hitters. Third, find those points on your to-do list that simply don’t need to be done. Yes, seriously. There are always things that do not have any weight, and the absence of their completion is not going to harm your overall progress. Delete, then move on (DETMO).

Do Not Overwork.

All work and no play destroys your edge. Your desire to stay up late or come in early to do some extra work and make a leap in your progress really just deletes your energy for larger tasks. Regrettably, in the long run, this strategy is going to harm your productivity and make you more vulnerable to stress, fatigue, and failure. The pace at which you attain your goals is not measured in hours spent struggling over extra tasks. Therefore, quit chasing rats and make sure you stop on time. A few additional hours of work will do nothing but make you feel tired and ruin the entire next day. Work a decent amount of time per day, and then, stop just in order to do the things you love and let your brain have a rest. Remember, when you take the time to sharpen your axe, you can cut more trees.

Final note: You don’t have to be the expert or work harder than everyone else to prove you are in charge. Going too deep just gets you in too deep. You are good at what you do, the leader you are, because you lead. Give those around you permission to do the same.  Oh, and clean out your JFG coffee can out from time to time!

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