Tripping Over a Dollar to Get to a Nickel

Summary: “Stop confusing frenetic motion with constructive action.”

My old boss used to love to accuse people of “tripping over a dollar to get to a nickel.” It was his folksy way of saying their priorities were all screwed up. He was usually right…and surprisingly, supported by a bit of brain science.

It’s relatively simple. A specific part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, serves to help you control impulsive behavior.

  • When you are reasonably focused and calm, this part of your brain is operating at peak efficiency. It keeps you from checking e-mails or web surfing when you have much more important things to do.
  • When you are unfocused, overloaded, rushed or under stress, this part of your brain is dialed back or shut down completely. Unimportant tasks become the equivalent of shiny objects.

The lesson in all of this?

  • Carve out at least a part of your day to slow down and get highly focused.
  • I suggest starting with three 32-minute blocks of time. That’s a total of 96 minutes a day. Remember the old theory – you get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your efforts? Well, 96 minutes of focused effort is 20 percent of an eight-hour workday.
  • Block out all distractions and set a timer for 32 minutes. Stay focused on the “dollars” on your agenda and ignore the “nickels.”
  • Or if you are serious, try focusing for an entire 96-minute block of time.

I admit this is an insanely simple idea – my favorite kind of idea – but it absolutely works. It accomplishes at least two important things, it allows you to get a lot of important things done in a day and it starts creating new and more productive neural pathways in your brain to replace old pathways that cause you to confuse frenetic motion with constructive action.

Stop tripping over shiny nickels! It’s a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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