Don't look at the tray
If you wait tables long enough, you learn the secret to balancing those giant trays of food: Don’t look at the tray.
Looking at the tray will inevitably cause you to overcorrect and send everything crashing to the floor, earning a sarcastic clap from that one jerk a few tables over. If however, you focus your vision exclusively on your destination, your body will naturally adjust as things shift on the tray and you’ll make it safely to the table.
A waiter told me about this technique recently and I was immediately struck by how applicable it was to so many areas of my life.
Just this week, while reviewing our company scorecard, I found myself wanting to change our sales approach because one of our metrics was lagging.
One metric. Out of ten. Less than a month into a new year.
Focusing so intently on this single area of the scorecard made me want to blow up the entire sales process we spent weeks developing.
I was in danger of overcorrecting.
Don’t get me wrong, scorecards are great! But myopically focusing on every tiny detail is no way to achieve anything and it’s definitely no way to live.
To stretch a metaphor: Don’t look at the tray, but don’t walk to the table wearing a blindfold either.
Earlier this year I began tracking a handful of habits in a scrappy spreadsheet. As I complete things each day like “take vitamins” or “meditate”, I add a “Y” or “N” to a cell and some basic conditional formatting turns the cell green or red.
It’s simple and addicting—I love seeing those green cells pile up as the days go by and I loathe seeing any red.
One habit I track is how often we have dinner together as a family.
The other day I was late shutting down my work for the day and I realized I had scant little time before I had to take my son to basketball practice. Rather than concede defeat, my wife and I scrambled to throw together a dinner (it was late in the week and groceries were scarce) and hurried everyone to the table where we all scarfed down a subpar meal.
There was no real conversation and stress levels were running high, but I got a (meaningless) green cell on my habit tracker.
A better plan might’ve been to take my son out to dinner after his practice for some one-on-one time while my wife enjoyed similar bonding time with our daughter.
I was more focused on my scorecard than I was on experiencing quality family time—which is the goal of the habit in the first place!
Habits, scorecards, systems, and the like are how you actually achieve goals, but you can’t ever lose sight of the goal itself.
If you do, chances are you’ll make a mess.
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