While pulling weeds in my garden this afternoon, which I am accustomed to doing after church on Sundays throughout the summer, I began consciously trying to free my mind from everything outside of the relationship between me and my garden. And the moment my mind was free, I was able to find the answer I was looking for.
In the recent past I have been viewing my life in sections, what you might call roles. I am a business analyst by day, a business consultant by night, a blogger, an entrepreneur, a father, and a husband (and yes, I fear I prioritize in that order, but that is a subject not covered in this blog post). I preferred calling the roles “sections” because I could better categorize in my mind how to act in each area, while remembering my character – who I am makes up a large part of how I act in each section. A value I set on myself, the whole of all those sections, was to prioritize things that are revenue generating over those that are not, least most being cost-centers (expense generators). And since my biggest client was my day job as a business analyst, that gets highest priority. In the same way, my family is a cost-center so they get lowest priority. My wife costs more than my children so she is ranked lowest.
However, I have a garden. I chose to plant a garden last fall and actively have been working on it since. This garden is roughly 200 square feet, of which half is corn and the other half made up of strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, and sunflowers (subconsciously I even listed the plants in the order which are most expense-saving to aesthetic-only). In the fall I turned over shovels of weeds. In the spring, I brought over compost-rich soil, and a neighbor helped me plow and till. My wife bought seeds and my daughter helped me plant them. At least once a week I go out, get on my hands and knees, and pull weeds. It takes about 5 minutes per corn stalk because the weeds are so thick. Each corn stalk will create roughly 80 cents worth of corn – if any corn comes at all. There is no fence around my garden so there is also a risk that some one or thing will harvest it first. I’m thinking all of these things while pulling weeds and then this question hits me, “How can I put so much effort into something non-revenue generating?” to which I intuitively knew the answer, “Because it’s exactly like starting a business, which you love to do.”
The Art of the Start
Starting a business usually involves many hours of preparation and toil for little or no return – all in hopes for the big payoff at the end, the harvest. Buying the seeds is easy and clean. Preparing the bed is a little harder, but at least the weeds aren’t growing then and you can ride the results of your preparation for a while. Planting is not so much difficult as mentally challenging and sometimes stressful. It’s no longer just churning up dirt, you’re dealing directly with product development now. Plant too deep or space to unevenly and you’ll get waste. There is no way to know how the decisions you’re making now will affect the harvest, but they will – tremendously. You water the seeds through promotion and pull weeds by dealing with all the little problems until the harvest comes in. But if you don’t stay on top of the problems, the problems keep growing. Just because you ignore the problems doesn’t mean they stop growing. The funny thing about weeds is, individually they are easy to pull. The problem is in their magnitude.
Like in Getting Things Done or any other personal productivity program you can think of, the key to projects or problem solving is defining the next step and taking action. Projects can sometimes seem like what author Jim Collins calls “big hairy audacious goals”, but if you break them down into “next steps,” big goals can seem manageable. Author Jack Canfield tells an allegory about driving to California from New York at night: you don’t have to see all the way to California, you only need to see the next 200 feet in front of you. So if your project is 200 square feet or 200 feet, define the next step, but of equally importance: take action. The weeds, or problems, will not stop coming. You must develop a system for dealing with them, stay on top of them, and you just might enjoy a bountiful harvest.