“One Box At A Time”

I think in metaphors constantly. My friend, Ken, told me that everyone does. I didn’t realize that. In that case, this post should make perfect sense.

I was out on my usual run this morning. In the last half of the run is a very steep hill that I love to run up. It’s one of those hills that gives your stomach the willies when you drive fast down it, which I have. This is also a great metaphor that I will save for next time; something that gives you the willies when you are on the decent can feel exhilarating when you are on the ascent conquering it….Anyway, it gets my heart pumping and I can feel it in the backs of my legs. It’s a great finish to an approximately 45 minute run.

I’ve been challenging myself to take it faster and all at once, no stopping. I found that when I keep my eyes on the top I get tired immediately. It’s just so huge and steep it makes me tired looking at it. Today, I realized I was running with my eyes focused about six feet out in front of me on the ground. The sidewalk is uneven and I can watch for bumps and cracks. Watching my feet doesn’t work because I can’t see what’s coming. Watching the top makes me tired. Six feet out seems about right. I can do that. I can tackle the next six feet and watch for bumps. If I keep aiming for the next six feet, eventually I will reach the top.

That’s pretty much how everything works. If I think about where I want my business, my physical fitness, my finances, my whatever….to go. It gives me a goal and a direction. But, if I’m always looking at the mountain, I feel defeated before I start. Taking it one manageable chunk at a time is always the most effective way to accomplish something big.

I saw this lesson in action many years ago when I partnered in business with someone, who is my wonderful, dear friend all these years later. We worked for a company that eliminated our graphics department. I was the manager and she worked with me. We were designers who created direct marketing pieces for beauty salons. We had 6,000 customers. When our department was eliminated, we were given permission to take all the customer files and started our own business using the current clientelle as our base.

We had many many boxes of customer files and artwork. We divided them in half and took them home. I stacked mine in the garage. I would look at that huge pile and walk away. I just could not bring myself to tackle that many files. “Later”, I would think. I was busy doing the work, I didn’t want to take all that time going through files.

Jeanette, on the other hand, took one box a day and sorted through it, tossing out what was not needed and consolidating. One box a day didn’t take long at all, half an hour, maybe an hour of her workday. I continued to look at my pile. She finished sorting her boxes and had a very manageable set of files when she was finished. I still had my pile – untouched unless I needed to look for something a customer needed, which was a pain because it was not well organized. Jeanette, on the other hand, not only had an organized set of files where she could easily get her hands on what she needed, she had had the opportunity to familiarize herself with each customer’s work and had ideas for what she could do to help them market themselves more effectively. Good business.

This was a huge lesson for me. I was a workaholic at the time. It was nothing for me to work around the clock at all hours to meet deadlines. I thought I was a good worker. Jeanette didn’t do that. When it was time to quit, she quit for the day. I thought she wasn’t as committed. What she was, was way smarter. She did what needed to be done a little at a time. She never missed a deadline and she got a lot done. She didn’t shoot for the whole chunk at once, she broke it down. She didn’t have to work around the clock because she was on top of things while I was still staring at mountains and working in reactive mode. I learned a lot from this person who was a lot younger than me, less experienced, but intuitively knew how to work smarter.

I tell this story now and then. One of my friends now reminds me of the lesson in it by simply saying, “One box at a time…” when I’m facing a big challenge. It’s a great lesson. You can accomplish anything if you bite off a small piece at a time and keep going.

So, I’m moving in new directions. I’m now beginning to teach classes and workshops regularly from my beautiful home studios. This week I’m teaching a pie class and having a vision board workshop. Moving in new directions, “One box at a time…”

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