Everyone has heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare. It has been shared since time immemorial and has often been the subject of different interpretations, including some hilarious cartoons. Very briefly, the tale goes as follows. The tortoise and the hare agreed to take part in a race. The hare confident in his victory decided to take a nap under a tree. While he was sleeping, the tortoise slowly crept by and overtook his opponent. By the time the hare woke up and made a dash for the finish line, the tortoise had already won the race.
This fable is rich in productivity principles. Let’s pick them out.
The greatest disservice our love for quick soundbites has done is create the illusion that people who reach the top of their game did so within a very short period of time. We get to see pictures of Olympic athletes as they cross the finish line. What we don’t see is the years prior to that where they trained their body to peak performance. If an athlete has their golden moment when all the cameras go off. It’s because they had the patience to do what many will not.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who had tried to turn their passion into a business and had become quite miserable as a result. Instead of finding financial freedom and happiness, they found themselves working every day of the week. It took only a short time for their “passion” to become a chore.
For the average person, telling them to follow their passion can be dangerous advice. ‘Passion’ is what gets lots of people started on multiple projects. It is the reason why many aspiring Authors write three chapters of what could possibly be a good story only to stop and start working on another story six months later.
Passion is a good place to start a task but it is not often what you need to finish it. More than passion, what most people need to finish a task is mental toughness (Fortitude, grit). This is because most things worth doing are hard. You won’t always have good days. You will encounter a difficult problem that might require weeks to solve. It is during that time that your passion often reaches its limits.
Wearing a seatbelt can save your life in the event of a crash but the act of putting one on is so simple, you don’t think about it when you get into the driver’s seat. Any goal worth fighting for must be one that scares you. Any plan worth following must be one where the next step is so simple you don’t have to think too hard about it. Dentists promote better oral health among the populace not by telling us of the dangers of thousands of unseen microbes but by encouraging people to brush their teeth every day. You don’t have to think too hard about brushing your teeth every morning. You probably do it on autopilot most days. Brushing your teeth is a simple task yet the rewards are enormous and add up over a lifetime.
Many people feel they would achieve more of their goals if they could only stay motivated long enough to work on them. Motivation, they say, is that silent factor that determines how productive they are. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it is easy to procrastinate on important tasks because you are waiting to feel motivated. A classic example of this fallacy is the all popular “writer’s block.” The thinking goes, the most successful writers are able to somehow find inspiration all the time and that is why they are able to churn great works of literature. The truth is successful writers are successful because they do not wait for their muse to tickle them. They wake up everyday and commit to writing for a few hours even if what they turn out is trash.