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When a family’s children are small, the family has such unity of purpose. Mom, Dad, and all the kids climb into the mini-van or the SUV and head to the store. From there, they visit her parents. Then stop at McDonald’s on the way home. If one of the older kids is involved in an organized program, the whole family attends.
At bath time, the younger ones are bathed in batch. Everyone eats together. Bed time comes for all of the kids at once, although older ones might get to read a while before turning out the light.
Young families have unity of purpose.
Then the kids get older. Activities overlap, so the family must divide to accomplish them all. Soon, neither Mom nor Dad can stay and watch Trish’s volleyball game, because other kids need to be shuttled from event to event.
Before you know it, Trish is catching rides with the older kids who have their own cars. In a blink, the kids’ afterschool jobs prevent them from eating dinner as a family. Now, even Grandpa’s 70th birthday becomes a hassle to schedule. And, yes, life is so complex the anniversary of a man’s birth has to be scheduled around other activities.
This is like any new organization, whether it’s a business startup or a grassroots movement. At first, there’s such excitement about the next event or milestone or release date that everyone focuses on that. Then teams get larger, and we divide our attentions. Some focus on the next milestone, while others engage in longer term planning. Before long, we have not one but three or four immediate milestones, and we’ve divided the labor among specialists.
At this point, we no longer feel the excitement of the startup. We feel like we’re in a big corporation with titles and departments. And we notice that we’re missing a lot of targets and struggling for ideas. Worst, there’s personality conflict and turf battles. Everything is hard work, and nothing feels like an achievement. Everything feels like a pain in the ass.
The way to combat this situation is three-fold:
Know Your Intended Outcome: Have a single purpose around which everyone rallies, and make sure the whole organization understands why you exist. For example, the first Tea Parties in February 2009 had perfect unity of purpose: Repeal the Pork or Retire. That message was for Congress. The pork was TARP, Stimuli I and II, the massive Budget Plus bill passed to redistribute wealth from us to Obama’s largest campaign donors. That’s why this whole thing came about: government spending and borrowing for things that we never gave government permission to do.
Eliminate the Unnecessary: Many activities should have been temporary but became permanent. Kill all of those. Weekly status meeting that came about because Project Y was behind schedule? Kill it when Project Y ships and fix the reason it was late. (Hint, meetings make projects later.) Is one project two generations behind because resources move to the other projects? Kill the feeder project. No one’s interested. Any activity or project that does not directly address the Intended Outcome needs to stop immediately.
Do One Thing at a Time: The human brain cannot multitask. Give it up. Don’t ask others to multitask unless you’d ask them to be in two places at once. Once you’ve eliminated the unnecessary and established a clear, constant reminder of your intended outcome, you should have only one important task before you. Do it. Then do the next. Then one after that. Trying to do two or more things at once will result in two or more crappy pieces of work.
If you feel that you’re busier than ever but nothing’s getting done, chances are you that you’ve taken on too much, lost sight of your intended outcome, and divided your attention among too many things. Stop. Write down that intention, write down a list of everything that’s in flight, then cross out every activity except the one that’s most important to the intended outcome. You make a new list tomorrow.
For more information on achieving your goals, read my latest book, Zen Conservatism.