One morning in 1972 Yogi Berra awakened his wife and three sons and piled them into the car to drive to his Hall of Fame ceremony.

They were in a bit of a hurry, and it soon became apparent he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. He accelerated, hoping he would make it on time. Noticing her husband’s nervousness, his wife pointed out, “We’re lost, aren’t we?”

Best recognized for his witty remarks, Yogi quickly fired back—”Yes, but we’re making great time!”

Here is today’s BIG IDEADirection is far more important than speed.

Just because you are moving at a high rate of speed, doesn’t mean you are moving toward your intended destination.

I love how author Brian Tracy says it—Never confuse activity with accomplishment.

Feverish plate spinning doesn’t mean you are making progress toward your goals.

After all, real productivity isn’t doing more. It’s doing more of the right things—with focus.

I want to introduce the concepts of TOP-DOWN versus BOTTOM-UP information processing models used in many fields ranging from cognitive psychology to software design.

When we start our day, we often use a BOTTOM-UP approach—meaning that we sometimes launch into our day without thinking. We chug three cups of coffee, fire up our laptop first thing in the morning, and blaze through our day at blistering speed. We might even get a ton of things done, but we ask ourselves, did we really accomplish anything meaningful?

I know this because I used to work this way!

If you haven’t read the wildly popular Getting Things Done by David Allen. As of this writing, it had more than 3K reviews on Amazon. This is an example of a bottom-up model. He can teach you how to do anything faster and more efficiently. But this approach to productivity doesn’t begin with WHAT you are doing.

And what you do is exponentially more important than how efficiently you do it. Furthermore, doing something with painstaking attention to detail doesn’t make that task important either!

Speed can be a benefit, but only if you are headed in the right direction.

Compare this with a TOP-DOWN approach—where we have an overall intended destination and very clear priorities. We know what matters most.

Even if we do only one thing that day, we know it was important.

Here is a critical point to understand—our brains actually prefer lazy tasks. They do this in an attempt to save energy.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman methodically describes this in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

That means any day you wake up, your default preference will most likely be to pick easy things to do first, whether personally or professionally. There is no shame in this, but you have to know you are fighting an uphill battle with your natural urges. We all are.

According to Kahneman, there are 2 kinds of thinking—fast and slow. Fast thinking is automatic or impulsive—like running from a tiger or brushing your teeth.

 

Slow thinking is conscious, deliberate, and thoughtful.

Trying to carefully identify the most important tasks of our days is SLOW thinking—it’s hard. Trying to identify the purpose of our lives, or our most impactful leadership decisions can be really hard, and time-consuming. It takes a lot of brainpower and can leave you feeling physically exhausted. This is why most people don’t do it!

But like Yogi Berra—sometimes pulling the car over to check the map or look around is the fastest way to your destination.

We need to step back long enough to define a fairly clear direction for our lives and work goals. It will often change, but we need an initial heading to make any meaningful progress.

Bottom Line—from now on, don’t start any day with busy work—ever. Define your goals and then identify the actions that will really move the needle. Do those things first daily.

In the upcoming weeks, we will discuss tools and strategies you can use to do this!

Your homework—turn information into action:

Here are some journaling exercises to get you thinking about direction:

  1. APPLICATION TO PERSONAL LIFE: Imagine yourself on your 100th birthday and everyone you’ve ever known comes to pay tribute to you.
    • What are 10 things you would want them to say about you?
  2. APPLICATION TO WORK:
    • What is the central purpose of your job?
    • What are the 5 most important things you do at your job?

Have a great weekend!

Parker

Suggested Resources

  1. Read the rest of this series!
  2. Daniel Kahneman-Thinking Fast and Slow
  3. David Allen-Getting Things Done

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a board-certified Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Performance Coach. His personal mission is to improve the way people live and work by helping them apply science-based strategies for personal, family, and workplace leadership—in that order. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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