There’s a certain satisfaction to being busy. You’re getting things done. Every task is a priority and thus the importance of your work is assured. Furthermore you are praised and rewarded handsomely by others for your dedication. That is until you realize that years later, you haven’t been taking care of your self or others or doing what is deeply meaningful.
We are captives to the task of the moment because this moment is what sucks our attention from the bigger picture. Living life from one item on a to-do list to another is like driving a car with our eyes firmly fixed on the car immediately in front of us. True, you’ll never hit that car, but you’ll also never get to where you want to go.
In the operation of business as well as life, there are an unlimited number of things that need to get done. The trick is in knowing which ones are actually worth investing time in. The trick to knowing is investing time in figuring it out. It’s a catch-22 where the “figuring out” part is dropped in favour of simply getting it done and thus begins the hamster wheel run.
The symptoms of what I call operationally cornering oneself are easily recognizable by others. The healthy daily disciplines are the first to go… exercising, financial restraint, strategic planning, breakfast. The individual or organization starts fighting ever increasing numbers of crises or fires. There is no time to do everything, so stress increases until less is done with more effort. The atmosphere becomes one of panic and a parochial focus on efficiency and results. The person caught in the flurry of activities may sense that something is wrong, but will have no time or inclination to investigate why.
Time is of course not the issue. It is having the strength and capacity to tear your eyes away from the crisis of the moment to consider the crisis of the long view. It is having the foresight to know that you can only save time by investing it. Luckily, life has plenty of opportunities to practice it, whether it’s taking the two seconds to look up just before you kick the ball, or losing the war in a fight with a spouse to win the peace, or stopping to reflect before acting especially when under pressure.
In most complex games, there is a short game of techniques or tactics and a long game of preparation and strategy. If you find yourself constantly trapped in the short game, then perhaps you can’t afford not to stop and think about the long game.