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Organizational Performance

Working hard but not getting anything done?

It’s a common lament: “I am busy all day, but I don’t seem to get anything done that really affects my income, my goals, or the quality of my life. How can this be?”

Thick of the thin

Most of us simply let our day happen to us. It is easy, natural, and takes almost no effort. We can be under the illusion that we are being productive, because we are busy, busy, busy. We are happily in the thick of the thin, producing lots of noise but little real action.

What could you be convicted of in a court of law?

If getting things done suddenly became a crime, what could you be convicted of? Would it be a serious crime? Or a misdemeanor? Would it be a slam-dunk conviction, or purely circumstantial?

Andrew Carnegie

At one time, Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest people in the world. Before it was all over, Mr. Carnegie gave it all away. Long before his death, he gave something else besides money away. That something was his recipe for staying out of the thick of the thin.

The recipe

A businessman asked Mr. Carnegie for his secret of success. Mr. Carnegie told him to write down the top five things that he must accomplish each day. Start with number one and don’t do anything else until it is completed. If distracted, return to number one at the first opportunity. The businessman asked Mr. Carnegie what he owed him for this secret. Carnegie simply suggested that he come back in thirty days and pay what he thought the secret was worth. The year was 1900.

Thirty days later

The businessman returned and paid Mr. Carnegie $25,000 as his estimate of what the secret had meant to him. In 2008 dollars, this would be more than $250,000, I estimate. A valuable tip, indeed.

How to get value from this secret of Andrew Carnegie

Put it into action. Focus is one of the great secrets of the rich, the powerful, the accomplished: those who consistently achieve their goals. Saying no is very hard for me, but critical to my success. Looking at my own life, it is clear the more I focus, the better I do.

The choice is, as always, yours

Andrew Carnegie’s little secret will cost you nothing, and it will be worth nothing, unless you act on it. It is simply an idea that you can choose to put into action in your life, if you see fit.

A classic example (author unknown):

I decide to water my garden.
As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.

As I start toward the garage,
I notice mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mail box earlier.

I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.

I lay my car keys on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full.

So, I decide to put the bills back on the table, and take out the garbage first.

But then I think,
since I’m going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first.

I take my checkbook off the table, and see that there is only one check left.

My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the house to my desk, where I find the can of Pepsi I’d been drinking.

I’m going to look for my checks, but first, I need to push the Pepsi aside so that I don’t accidentally knock it over.

The Pepsi is getting warm, and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

As I head toward the kitchen with the Pepsi, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye — they need water.

I put the Pepsi on the counter and discover my reading glasses that I’ve been searching for all morning.

I decide I’d better put them back on my desk, but first I’m going to water the flowers.

I set the glasses back down on the counter, fill a container with water, and suddenly spot the TV remote. Someone left it on the kitchen table.

I realize that tonight, when we go to watch TV, I’ll be looking for the remote, but I won’t remember that it’s on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs. But first I’ll water the flowers.

I pour some water on the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.

So, I set the remote back on the table, get some towels, and wipe up the spill.

Then, I head down the hall, trying to remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:

  1. The car isn’t washed.
  2. The bills aren’t paid.
  3. There is a warm can of Pepsi sitting on the counter.
  4. The flowers don’t have enough water.
  5. There is still only one check in my check book.
  6. I can’t find the remote.
  7. I can’t find my glasses,
  8. and I don’t remember what I did with the car keys.
  9. Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today,
  10. I’m really baffled, because I know I was busy all day,
  11. and I’m really tired.

I realize this is a serious problem, and I’ll try to get some help for it, but first, I’ll check my e-mail….

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