“I need you to go out to the orchard and pick a basketful of apples,” the mother instructed her young daughter. “Just walk row by row and pick the prettiest ones. There are plenty on the trees, so just check each tree once and move along. You won’t have time to dawdle; I’ll need them in time for lunch in a half hour.”
The girl thought this should be simple enough when she arrived at the orchard. However, as she walked the rows of trees she found it difficult to choose. Each apple she inspected seemed to be of exceptional quality.
She would look over one tree, but decide that the next tree might hold better apples. After all, she only wanted to pick the best and reddest. But when she reached the edge of the orchard, her basket was empty. And she was late for lunch!
“All those trees and I couldn’t make up my mind,” she thought. “What if I didn’t get the best ones?”
Was it the fear of making a poor decision or just uncertainty? That day she realized that hesitating to make a decision and holding out for something better had prevented her from realizing the value of what was right in front of her.
We have all second-guessed ourselves or hesitated at some point – and usually for good reason. Perhaps new information came to light, or a budget couldn’t be stretched, or staff couldn’t handle any more work. Those are reasonable causes for hesitation.
And while I often advise people to trust their instincts, it’s also important to know the difference between hesitating and deciding on inaction because you don’t know where to begin.
Small or large problems that can be overcome should not hold up a project when all the other elements are in order. Putting off a decision disrupts the momentum when key players are ready to go.
When indecision and hesitation go beyond the necessary fact-gathering and initial planning, find a way to take a first step.
If making a decision is the problem, explore the reasons. Fear of failure, fear of success, lack of resources or experience, tight deadlines, even sheer laziness – all are potential buzzkills.
Those are, however, all surmountable problems. Fears, even when reasonable, are only as scary as you make them. Failure isn’t fatal, as I like to say, and success is sweet. Visualize what a completed project would look like and go from there. Put your imagination to work, and allow yourself to dream a little. Think about what could go right instead of what could go wrong.
When resources are in short supply, turn it into an opportunity to make do with what you have. Look for ways to repurpose existing budgets or staffing to adjust to changing needs. Not always simple, to be sure, but organizations face those challenges every day. If you’re short on experience, get busy and study up. Find a mentor, take a class, read everything you can get your hands on. Pick the brains of your staff and colleagues.
If laziness is the big issue, then my suggestion is to move aside and get out of the way for those who can get the job done. Seriously. Motivation is critical to decision-making, and if your hesitation is causing a project to suffer, then the problem is not the project.
I’ll share a little rhyme that has helped me get moving when I need a jumpstart. I wish I could find the author so I could express my gratitude for the inspiration. See if it doesn’t help you too.
How and When
We are often greatly bothered
By two fussy little men,
Who sometimes block our pathway –
Their names are How and When.
If we have a task or duty
Which we can put off awhile,
And we do not go and do it –
You should see those two rogues smile.
But there is a way to beat them,
And I will tell you how:
If you have a task or duty,
Do it well, and do it now.
If you see yourself in this little ditty, it’s time to rethink your future. Because the future belongs to those who act!
Mackay’s Moral: “Do it well” – or why bother? “Do it now” – and then get on to the next challenge!
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.
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