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Yesterday was one of those amazingly frustrating days. You know, the kind where you feel like you’ve gotten sucked into a black hole and will never, never, never get out again? That kind. Once I got through gnashing my teeth down to nubs, I realized I’d been blessed (I use the term loosely) with an AFGO—Another Flippin’ Growth Opportunity.
On the surface, it looked like no big deal: meet a potential strategic ally in downtown Minneapolis. Unfortunately, my brain seems to turn to guacamole whenever I get near the downtown area, and I almost inevitably get lost. Having directions, not having directions, it doesn’t matter; I get lost. Yesterday was no exception.
Here’s a brief rundown of how I got myself into a blood-pressure-spiking situation:
- I was so intent on finishing the PowerPoint slides for a major presentation that I lost track of time. I came up for air about the time I’d intended to leave for my appointment—which would have been fine if I’d already showered and dressed
- I thought I had carefully read the directions, when in reality it turns out I skimmed them and added a few assumptions
- The part in said directions that told me to “turn right and continue for five blocks” would have worked well if I hadn’t gotten distracted and lost count of how many blocks I’d already traveled
- Once I finally pulled into the parking garage (not the one in the directions, but it was nearby), I was so frazzled that I completed neglected to pay attention to which level I parked on; in fact, I didn’t even clue in to whether I was driving down, into one of those buried garages, or up, into a towering one.
With this combination of sloppy behaviors, it’s not surprising that I felt like I was in some sort of Twilight Zone episode.
- I entered downtown sort of on time, then spent 15 minutes driving around because of not having carefully followed the directions
- my lunch partner was gracious and we had a helpful discussion; we just had to conduct it at warp speed, since she needed to get back to her paycheck job
- I did manage to make my way back to the correct parking ramp, and then I proceeded to get an unscheduled workout by having to walk the length of each level to find my car. (Did I mention there were 10 such levels all in all, and I parked on the top one?)
Beyond the frustration of not quickly and efficiently getting where I wanted to go, I also made myself crazy because I keep thinking I’ve learned these lessons already, for heaven’s sake. Apparently, however, that’s just wishful thinking on my part; if I’d really internalized them, I wouldn’t keep getting opportunities to (re)learn them yet again. So, in the interest of shortening your learning curve, I share an encore presentation of the following lessons.
Stay focused. I only had to count five streets! Even on a bad day, I can do that. My ongoing challenge is SQUIRREL!!! to stay focused on the task at hand and refuse to be distracted by bright, shiny objects of any sort.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you. While this may sound contradictory to lesson #1, it’s really not. You can be aware of what’s happening on the periphery while staying focused on your primary goal; it’s mostly a matter of choosing where you’ll put the bulk of your attention. If I’d only done this, I could have take the elevator up to my correct level and gotten to my car quickly and easily.
Be cautious about assuming that you already “know” something important. When I read the directions, they clearly stated that the garage I wanted was between blocks five and six. However, when I read “turn right into the garage”, I assumed they meant “turn right at the fifth block”. There was no reason for me to assume that; I just got sloppy and did it—hence the unplanned scenic tour of Minneapolis.
Once I got back to my office and soothed myself with some chocolate, I realized that I must also be at risk of derailing my business-building efforts by ignoring these lessons. How many times have I lost (or simply chosen to give up) my focus? How often do I drop an important-but-not-urgent task to work on something that’s both in my face and easier to do, but doesn’t have the same future impact on my business? And how frequently do I act on assumptions or on what I “know”, only to find out later my actions were based on faulty or incomplete premises?
So I’m going to be more stringent about challenging myself with questions like these:
- Do you know what task is going to have the greatest impact on your business?
- Are you concentrating on only that task until it’s complete? Or are you getting seduced by easy-yet-trivial activities?
- Have you taken your focused attention to such an extreme that you now have tunnel vision? Are you missing out on opportunities or potential hazards because you’re too tightly focused?
- Have you gotten complacent about knowing the “right” way to do the “right” things?
- What have you done lately to confirm that your high-priority activities really are the ones that are likely to produce the outcomes you want?
Here’s hoping that these observations and questions keep your learning curve shorter than mine apparently is. However, if you feel you’ve kind of learned them but still struggle to actually implement them, maybe I can help. (I, like many entrepreneurs, am a whiz at doing better work for my clients than I sometimes do for myself. See the April 7, 2012, rant/blog on this topic.)
If implementing your great ideas and applying your painfully learned lessons remains a frustrating challenge for you, contact me. We can have an offline, let’s-see-what-we-see conversation, ask each other some questions, and explore whether there’s a solution I can offer.