When I was still in college, before I had my first “real” job, my grandfather implored me to always “pay myself first.” That was his savings mentality, and it has served me well. What he meant was to put money toward the future before I ever saw it in my bank account—contribute to 401(k) plans, round my mortgage and car payment up to the next hundred dollars each month, that sort of thing. That little bit extra would make a real difference someday.
Now, each year, the National Fluid Power Association presents some fantastic speakers at their Annual Conference. The 2018 event certainly did not disappoint, but I was surprised to make a connection with my grandfather’s sage advice from all those years ago. Chris McChesney, one of the authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, spoke about leadership and execution. He delved into a lot of different areas, but one struck me as particularly noteworthy: the whirlwind.
According to McChesney, inside of every organization, there’s a conflict between two forces. On one side is your day job, which he calls the whirlwind. On the other are new projects, goals, more strategic issues— all the activities for moving forward, for innovating. But the whirlwind is where the problem lies for most of us.
“There is an enormous amount of energy spent to just keep the operation going,” he said. “Forget doing anything new.”
The key is that both things are necessary for you to be successful. An organization has to create and educate new leaders, come up with new products and innovations, break into new markets, and so on. And whether we’re managers or not, we have to participate in these sorts of initiatives. However, these tasks aren’t the same as the daily whirlwind—the emails, the reports, the meetings that you have to deal with.
This struck a chord with me. The whirlwind items compete for your time, energy, and attention, McChesney said. Every day. It’s relentless. If you let it, the whirlwind will take up 100% of your time and energy at the office. Our goal, he said, should be to keep it at 80%—actively take 20% of your time to dedicate toward bigger goals.
That’s easy to say, but how does one go about it? McChesney suggests simplicity. You can’t have 8 or 10 big goals over the course of a year. Companies that he’s studied show that too many goals are subject to the law of diminishing returns.
“Organizations down at the team level that have two to three things they’re trying to do in addition to that day job, in addition to that whirlwind, are actually, over the course of a year, in a really good position to get those two to three new things done,” he said.
So, I propose to you today that you take five minutes, close your email, and think. What one or two or three initiatives could you work on over the coming year that would really make a difference for your job or your team or your organization? Jot them down and tape that paper to the corner of your monitor. Stare at it every day when the whirlwind threatens to overtake you. And “pay yourself first,” so to speak. Invest that 20% of time—or whatever you can afford—to make your job more efficient, more well-run, more successful in both the near and distant future.