ARTICLES • 08-08-2013

While a part inside us seems to feast over a large number of tasks accomplished, however small, at the end of the day we're faced with the arithmetics of value: how much was all that execution worth? the answer is, of course: it depends! where were you heading? and isn't life the same way? are you trying to achieve as many goals as you can, or do you have a purpose that enables you to feel and enjoy "now" all the time?

John and the mountain - part I

Once upon a time, there was a worker called John. John worked really hard. His job was to move things from a mountain he called "to-do mountain", to another mountain he called "done mountain". He used a wheelbarrow, and his job looked more or less like this:


Each day he would try hard to get it all done, attempting to empty the "to-do mountain", but no matter how close he would get to zero, a big excavator would always pour more into the "to-do mountain", making it seemingly impossible to accomplish, no matter how many hours he worked.

Typically, John would leave his office late and tired, defeated, only to get home feeling guilty for not having arrived earlier to his family. He would cross his chaotic garage feeling guilty for not tiding up, looking at the exercising bicycle remembering his lack of physical shape, and ate some quick plastic meal, recalling his doctor's recommendation to eat vegetables. He would then sink in the couch in front of TV, computer on his lap, and basically zen-out, half sleeping through his work report and TV series, into the voidness of another unvictorious end of the day. Once in a while, the dusty photo camera on the shelf stared at him, as a reminder that even his favourite hobbies were frozen, also waiting for one day in the future, when life will be perfect and all sort of achievements become possible.

Clearing the mountain?

In my experience as a coach and trainer in this area, I have many times worked with very competent professionals that would present me their situation a bit like John in the metaphor, with a slight feeling of despair noticeable through the voice tone. Something like: "No matter how fast I work, there is always some more ready to be poured into my mountain... Even worse: I'm convinced that the faster I clear stuff, the bigger the mountain gets!!! It's unbelievable!!! This way, I'll never get it completely done!!!"

John and the mountain - part II

One day, John arrived at the office and his boss introduced him a new colleague: "John", the boss said, "this is Victor. We know you've been really busy with that huge mountain, so we got you some help. Victor will be working under your supervision. Good luck for you both!"

Victor's joyful enthusiasm readily contrasted with John's quite serious mood. From the very start, whenever Victor was trying to chat a bit, John repeated:
"No talking, Victor, just speed up the job... plenty to do!", pushing his wheelbarrow restlessly.

At a certain point, Victor was staring at the to-do mountain, analysing it, and was about to share something with John, who sure enough promptly said:
"No talking, Victor, just speed up the job... plenty to do!"
Victor would try to keep up the pace, though John was really quick. One time he interrupted him and said:
"Hey, John, have you noticed the mountain is not all the same? There seems to be some kind of gold nuggets there and over there and..."
"Victor, pleeease, no talking. Just speed up the job... plenty to do!"

A bit later, John caught Victor at the top of the mountain digging and moving dirt all around, searching for stuff.
"What the hell are you doing, Victor? Are you crazy? We need to speed up the job, no time for that!"
"Take it easy, John, I'll be there in a moment."
John got back to his wheelbarrow shaking his head in reproval.

One hour had passed when Victor was finally back in the ground, pushing his heavy wheelbarrow, completely full of valuable gold nuggets.
"Wow! So many gold nuggets, Victor! How the hell did you get that?"
"Well, John, we'd better not talk... just speed up the job... plenty to do!!!"

"Wait a minute. I've been working really hard here. I want to know how you did that..."
"You know, John? Your problem is that, deep inside, you haven't really accepted that you can't empty that mountain. A part of you believes you can or you should, and that's just not going to happen. But until you face it, you'll never be really free to let some of the dirt behind and focus on choosing what is really valuable..."

Infinite mountain source

Seen from this perspective, it seems quite plausible that in a productive environment, the more competent you get, the more access you have to good opportunities of adding value. The question is: what meaning are you giving to the size of your mountain? What do you read in there? Is it how much you are falling behind? Or is it your professional growth and trustworthiness? Is it what you HAVE to do? Or what you may WANT to do? And should the best metrics be the size of the left hand mountain or the size of the right hand one? Are you worried about what value didn't you add yet, or focused on getting good value added? Can it be that your growing opportunities are deceptively turning into growing pressure?

Choosing area of influence

Most of us will clearly recognize that there is a part of the world that is out of reach of our influence. You can't (at least yet) choose the weather you want for tomorrow. Or decide that today you are not having gravity pulling you down all the time. Other areas, though, are a bit less clear. For example, you might consider that you should influence the fact that your loved one repeatedly leaves a certain light on, without needing it. You may bring that part of the world nearer to your influence with actions like getting mad that you have told him/her a thousand times not to leave the light on. Then you might want to preach a good lecture about savings, house expenses or even ecology. Of course if you take it too seriously that might just ruin the humour for the rest of the night... and the real benefits of that energy spending (specially if it's happening for the thousandth time) are less than guaranteed, right? Learning to choose wisely which area of the world you really want to be influencing and which one you want to accept as is gives you a valuable key to distribute focus in a highly productive way.

Mountains and metrics - purpose once more

Is the size of your "to-do mountain" a choice of yours? Or it just "happens" to be like that? If at least a part of the flow of inputs arriving at your "to-do mountain" is outside your influence, then you should definitely bring your success criteria closer to what depend mostly on your own effort. If you are in sales, for instance, you probably can't guarantee you are going to sell X products, but you can almost guarantee to make Y phone calls or Z visits, which are much more within your control. Bring those metrics closer to you, and, once more, clarify what they are, but only after you have decided your mission statement. Decide the destination before you set the mile stones.

Must do's - bad things may happen (are you sure?)

Of course there are activities which don't necessarily add much value to your mission but need to be completed anyway. Things like submitting your taxes, doing something to please your boss, even attending certain meetings... Let's just say that bad things may happen if you don't do those. But pay attention carefully: which of those are really important not to miss, and which of those you don't want to miss out of... what? habit? could it be that you are just used to do them? or you are afraid of the consequences? or you think you will break a promisse than you didn't really make in the first place? is it a fair analysis? what might really happen if you just said NO to the meeting request and focus on some important work instead? Well, we're not going into detail about it just yet, (we'll hit it on the PART C - Achievement, when we talk about your commitments), but if you feel many "have to's" many times, and more over, if you feel those "have to's" are getting in the way of your "want to's", then I would suggest that a new commitment strategy should be put in place about some stuff around you. For now, my recommendation would be that, if you need a good discipline at all, discipline yourself on NOT DOING whatever you don't want to (please note I said "want to" not "feel like to").

Several mountains

It's easier to keep "surfing" on golden nuggets most of your time, if you have everything divided in more than one mountain. Taking that analogy to your to-do lists and personal organizing items, you'll likely want to have a good schematic representation of all your options, including want-to's, have-to's, must's and everything else. Like a good road map, you want an efficient tool to let you chose the way to go. This is the exactly my next subject.

With this third article, chapter III - Goals & Direction is completed. And so is Part A - FUNDAMENTALS.
Next comes Part B - THE SYSTEM. I'll be dealing with ways to implement the concepts we've seen so far, applied to our daily world: paper organization, emails, to-do lists, vision-boards, project documentation and much more.

Until then, try a TRICK!...

Gonçalo Gil Mata


|T| Write down Mission statement...>>

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