Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

A Meditation on Weeding

We all want the big score, even in small things. For example, we like to plant flowers or vegetables, and we want to harvest them for our table, but we don’t really want to do the little work – the weeding – that makes that possible.

Weeding (or washing dishes or vacuuming or sweeping the floor) is a relatively thankless job that requires patience and produces not much in the way of a spectacular result. Sure, you get to see a decrease in the number of unwanted plants in your garden, but you don’t get a big bang for your efforts.

It’s the same at work or play. Companies often focus on new products and new customers rather than improving their existing products or keeping their current customers happy. Sure, they claim to offer loyalty reward programs (and some of them are legitimate), but often they’re more flash than substance.

Likewise, when I coached soccer, my players always wanted to scrimmage. They never wanted to do the drills that might improve their skills. In a 30-minute scrimmage, they might touch the ball for a total of two or three minutes, while in that same 30 minutes, I could have them working with the ball for almost the full half hour.

And yet, most of the benefit we get from activities comes from doing the little tasks – minimizing customer complaints or opening up the garden so the tomato plants can grow unencumbered.

So how do we get ourselves to focus on the little things? By changing our mindset. By attributing value to small tasks. By learning to like these often mindless chores.

When weeding, for example, use that as an opportunity to let your mind run free, to recharge your batteries and prepare yourself for the next day or the next challenge. When focusing on keeping an existing customer happy, remind yourself that you’re increasing that person’s loyalty to your company and to you.

Tell yourself that these little jobs can bring enormous benefits when they accumulate. You may soon grow to enjoy them for their own sakes and not just for what they deliver down the road.


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