25 July 2010

Just Ignore That Hilltop

I learned how to cycle long distances few years ago when I was training for a charity ride that covered 170 miles over 2 days. 

One of the most powerful strategies I learned pertained to hill climbing.  Here’s what I learned.  While riding up a steep hill, don’t look at the top of the hill: it will overwhelm, frighten, and discourage you.  Stay focused on the immediate challenge: this pedal stroke, followed by the next pedal stroke, and so forth.  And notice the very local scenery: “Huh, that looks like wild Morning Glories growing there” or “Looks like gravel up ahead.”

This Hilltop Rule applies off the road as well.

When you’re working your way out of a demoralizing work backlog, stay focused on the tasks and goals for this week.  Don’t keep looking at the whole heartbraking list – ignore that hilltop – and stay focused on the immediate work at hand. 

If you’re managing a project that has 3000 moving parts and you become paralyzed every time you think about all that still lies ahead, stop thinking about all that lies ahead: think about this week’s work.  

This is not to say don’t step back regularly and survey the big picture.  You certainly want to be sure you’re going up the right hill.  You also need to revisit your time line and resource projections on a regular basis. But not every hour.  Not even every day. 

Some people need to view the hilltop regularly to get re-inspired: “It’s not about doing the (lengthy and ho-hum) calculations for this proposal, it’s about landing this contract and taking the kids to Disney World this year!”  “Yeah, the road is rough but this reasearch is making a difference in how  lymphoma is treated.”

But mostly, stick with the pedal strikes.  That’s how work gets done.   Cumulatively, the pedal strokes add up.  Miles are covered.  And every now and then there’s a downhill segment – enjoy it when you get one! 

The downhill road can be very bumpy, and the dappled sunlight makes it hard to see the potholes too far ahead.  So slow down enough to stay safe.  Keep your wits about you.  Don’t stop doing your due diligence.  You can still enjoy a downhill ride even with your brakes lightly engaged. 

Here’s the Hilltop Rule:
  • When riding up a steep hill, ignore the hilltop.
  • Stay focused on the road immediately in front of you.

Categories: Productivity