This past weekend, I took Maggie the mostly lab on a long walk along a wooded trail near my home.
We had the trail to ourselves as it was a cold, gray day…with a steady drizzle. As we walked, I couldn't help but notice that Maggie rarely looked up, her nose close to the ground as she sniffed with vigor, weaving back and forth.
It occurred to me that we often do the same thing. The pressures of work, juggling all the projects or clients, trying to squeeze in a little work/life balance etc. has us nose to the ground much of time.
But as I observed Maggie on this walk, she clearly illustrated the dangers of that mindset.
You lose sight of what's going on around you: On our walk, the trail was a hopping place. Four deer, 2 rabbits (including the tiniest baby rabbit I have ever seen), a woodchuck and more birds and squirrels than I could count all literally ran right in front of us, crossing the trail. Maggie didn't see one of them. Think how different her walk experience would have been if she had. (I'm pretty sure I saw one of the deer mocking Maggie to the other deer.)
How many times have we missed an opportunity because we were out of touch with what was going on around us, in our industry or maybe even in our own company? Often times, those opportunities cross our paths once and then they're gone for good if we're not ready.
You step in things you wish you hadn't: As we rounded a bend in the trail, Maggie was so oblivious, she walked right into a patch of pricker weeds. She let out a yelp that was so loud, she spooked all the birds in the trees around us.
Admit it, you've been so absorbed in the minutia of the day, or in an internal political battle or worrying about losing your job that you've stepped in something pretty unpleasant too. It's so easy to get sucked into our own heads or a project that we don't see we're stepping on a landmine, often with disastrous results.
You can go down the wrong path: At one point in the walk, I decided just to see where Maggie would lead us. Now, I am not suggesting she is a genius but we've walked this same trail many, many times. But because she had her head down, she very quickly took us off the main trail, and into one of the neighborhoods surrounding the area.
We have to see the big picture to make good choices. We need to know what our customers are saying, our competition is doing and how the marketplace is responding. Without that, we're literally making decisions in the dark and can end up where we don't want to be.
Take it from Maggie and me. Make some time on your calendar to step back and look around. Don't let the day's tasks drag your head down too close to the ground.
I'm curious — how do you balance the demands of the day with the need to keep your head up?
Actually Drew – I don’t balance it. Despite everything – including good advice. Against everything I know, I still don’t. And I guess a few others are in the same boat…
(and a really interesting design here – who did it?)
The closest I get to balance is taking time to read thought provoking blogs such as this one – and thats over breakfast because once at my desk its nose to the grindstone – sigh.
First of all, the self-serving comment: As a consultant, this is always part of my selling pitch to client. “You’re so busy and buried in the day-to-day, you NEED me to help you think beyond the next quarter. You remind me of the guys in Detroit who were still DEBATING front wheel drive while the Europeans were building cars with it or the guys at AT&T who were busy IMPROVING dial-up instead of laying fiber.”
Secondly,my observation of clients is that none of them, literally, is capable of raising their heads up, unless they overtly commit to a day a week to do so. They have to block off time and force themselves to put away the Blackberries and concentrate on what may be around the corner.
Finally, to your real question, how do I, personally, deal with it? I do the same thing that I advise my clients to do: I overtly put time on my calendar that is an inviolable as attending my sons’ lacrosse games or music recitals…”THIS TIME IS FOR LONG TERM THINKING. DON’T INTERRUPT ME! IF THERE IS A FIRE, JUST PUT IT OUT. IF THERE IS A WAR, JUST WIN IT AND GET BACK TO ME. IF THERE IS AN EARTHQUAKE, JUST CALL THE RED CROSS.”
I use the most obvious moments of not working to step back, give my mind a rest from the work itself, and think about long-term/big-picture things: bathroom break. Yes, it’s short. But I’ve found it’s just enough time to let my mind spark an idea or plan. If it seems viable, I put it on my task list as soon as I get back to my desk. Then it simply becomes part of my workday to hash it out. (This probably works because I live by my task list – if it’s there, it gets done.)
And if, after several days, I still haven’t been able to push aside other work and get to that, the shower is a great place to think! And the best part of that is you’re not taking time away from work or family.
I loved this analogy. I find that I have to schedule the time. If I don’t, it doesn’t happen enough (or not at all some weeks). I find that when I do get my nose up off the pavement – it typically pays good dividends. I frequently subscribe to the bathroom / shower method as well!
Beautifully written Drew! This is exactly why I broke up with my BlackBerry. I spent my time similiar to Maggie… looking down. Not anymore 🙂 I’ve changed my ways and life is much more grand!
My father was fond of the following piece of advice. He would say, “Always keep your nose to the grindstone, but realize that can put your backside in a precarious position”.
Words to live by.
Great way to put it all in perspective with a wonderful story. Sometimes when you get caught up in the mess you simply have to take a break.
Go to lunch with a friend (not a coworker), turn your phone off and talk about everything but work. Works like a charm.
Always keep talking to customers. Most often old customers and new ones are able to tell you a lot. If you have dealers (affliates) they are another source, but not so important. They may not be tracking your product or service so well.
A review once in two months is a good idea. Don’t wait for it to just happen.
Well, I wonder if anyone really has it down pat. Some days we do it better than others.
I appreciate the compliment re: the design. We (MMG) did it. Actually, we’re getting ready to change things up so stay tuned!
At 6 in the morning your nose was already at the grindstone? Or are we in different time zones?
I’m glad you take a break here at the Marketing Minute but I’m hoping you can cut yourself some slack soon!
How often do you schedule the “do not disturb” time?
I’m assuming your To Do list, e-mail in box etc. look like mine. How do you ensure that you spend the blocked time on big picture rather than dashing through some nagging To Do list items?
Now that is the sign of someone who makes the most of every minute! I definitely use the shower time to think but I have to admit, I have not done a lot of powder room pondering!
When you schedule the big picture thinking time, do you spend it in the office or do you get away?
One place I do quite a bit of “let my brain wander” thinking is while I drive. I find that if I let things simmer in the background while I’m on the road, the ideas and solutions just pop into place.
And have you felt any adverse effects of ditching the Blackberry?
Sounds like your dad got it. How did he (or did he?) model that behavior/choice for you?
You’re so right about that. Re-connecting with a friend for even a cup of coffee rejuvenates us. Even a phone call to someone important to your life can be the mental break you need.
Thanks Drew for a great posting with lots of thought provoking ramifications. And THANK YOU to all of you who took the time to post a response. There are some priceless suggestions here.
Thanks for sharing!
My readers rock! The smartest stuff is always found in the comments section!
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Terrific post. It’s really helpful. The points with the example you gave were good and we all nearly do it.
I learned something new. Thanks for the wonderful marketing tip. I’ll share this story with my colleagues as well.
If you have dealers (affliates) they are another source, but not so important. They may not be tracking your product or service so well.
I find that many inspirational thoughts come to me when I am working out. Doing something good for the body seems to stimulate my mind as well.
And that would be a good lesson. Nicely done.