What you pay attention to… happens
We have an interesting growing season in Arizona: we plant in late February and harvest in April and May. Then we plant again in late September and harvest in December. It’s important to pay attention to the planting seasons or you’ll miss the windows of opportunity. The above photo was taken when I planted my garden this February. I didn’t pay attention to the instructions on the tomato plants and got a little too enthusiastic. That innocent looking tomato pot at the top held 6 plants! Within a month it was bulging out the sides and half the plants needed transplanting. Because I didn’t let it get out of control, I wound up with a magnificent crop of tomatoes and reveled in my instant salad bar on the back patio every night.
You can’t make things happen if you don’t pay attention to them. There’s another element: are we paying attention to the right things? Sometimes we create mischief by emphasizing things that don’t matter. If you tell your kids they are slobs every day, they will believe you and become slobs. That won’t make them want to clean their rooms. If you’re a manager, you can turn the focus of your people on the wrong things and take them away from productive activities that matter more.
One of my bosses along the way was a stickler for details. I once walked into the office on a very busy morning and couldn’t find any of my staff. My boss (a man responsible for millions of dollars in sales every year) had the entire admin team holed up in a conference room. He was teaching them how to staple a document. He wanted each staple to be precisely in the correct corner, at the correct angle, positioned so the paper didn’t tear when someone turned to the next page. Granted, presentation is very important. On the other hand, I could have handled that with a short memo.
This same boss had a great eye for details and balance. This is why he was successful. But his focus would get skewed by small details. We had a beautiful fringed carpet in the foyer of the main office. Part of the receptionist’s job was to make sure the fringe was always combed with a special carpet comb made for the boss. If he came out of his office and saw that the fringe had been walked on and ruffled, he would slap the receptionist’s desk with his hand to alert her.
Admirable attention to detail? Yes. Startling and an interruption of other duties? Absolutely. My entire admin team lined up in my office to complain they were missing calls and not able to focus on the work at hand because they were always jumping up and fixing that [expletive] carpet. I did a time/productivity study (with a great deal of poetic license in my analysis) and showed him that his attention to this detail was costing him in many other ways. I came in on the weekend to get work done and found him on the floor of the foyer with duct tape and scissors, taping the fringe under the carpet so it was no longer a problem. I remember stifling a giggle and saying, “Well, that’s one way to solve that!” And merrily escaped into my office.
If your people are doing the wrong things, are you contributing to the shift in their focus? Are you helping them understand what it is you need to have done so the team will succeed? Pay attention to the things you want to happen, not to the minutia of daily life that doesn’t matter.
To your Productivity!