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JEFFREY TOBIN: Time to stop starting

by on January 19, 2014 1:50 AM

However you start your day, stop it.

What is the very first thing you do when you get into the office? Study the daily reports? Check your calendar and email? Maybe you catch up on the news, or make a list of things you must finish today. Some people start their days with staff meetings. (I never liked those people. They are humorless and have bad breath. All of them.)

In our culture, the first instinct to get something done — is to do something. We ask, “What can I do right now that will bring me closer to my goal?” It’s a great question, but it’s also inappropriate.

At first.

“What can I do now?” is the wrong first question. It’s always the wrong first question, but it’s built into our culture so strongly that anything else feels wrongheaded. In fact, if we don’t get started doing something right away, we can even feel guilt. This thinking slows progress. Dramatically.

So what should you do first thing in the morning? Stop doing. That’s what you should do.

The very first thing to do each and every day is stop doing anything. Put down your phone or pen. Blank out your computer screen. Put away your reading or reports. Close your door if you have one. And if you can, stand up and walk around. Find a quiet, private place and move around a little bit. Whatever else you want to do, don’t.

Now, instead of asking, “What can I do next?” ask, “What should I be doing?” There is a subtle — but very significant — difference.

“What should I be doing?” This question addresses the bigger picture. It focuses on the horizon, the purpose, rather than slogging through tasks.

I remember a boot camp orienteering course I once traversed on my own. It was a timed event, testing individual knowledge, speed, confidence and use of maps and a compass. And it was well before GPS was around.

Counting my steps as I trudged along, I’d become hopelessly lost. Somehow I found myself on the wrong side of a road that paralleled some railroad tracks. Had I been going north instead of south the entire time?

Instead of shuffling farther along, I stood quietly and looked at my map and my surroundings. Those few moments of clarity gave me the courage to decide that the map, not I, was wrong.

A few hours later, I found I had won the competition. Why? Because I took time to stop, be quiet and consider everything, not just my activity.

Stop and consider everything: Ask “What should I be doing?” “What is the end purpose of all of this?” “Am I on the right path?”

However you start your day, stop it. Stand up, clear your head and look at the big picture. Only then should you start starting.



Jeffrey Tobin, an international speaker and business coach. He is also the owner of Henry Hall Office Products in Indiana and hosts the website www.JeffreyTobin.com. His professional advocacy columns appear Sundays in the Business section of The Indiana Gazette and the Community News page on The Indiana Gazette Online.
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