I wish that I could say that I came up with this story but, alas, I can't. It came whizzing into my email inbox from Chris Croft the Leadership and Management trainer. I can, though, say that its message rather resonated with me and I thought, therefore, I would share it. It goes like this:
I heard recently on radio 4 (so it must be true) that we throw away 50% of all the apples we buy. What a waste! How can that possibly happen? Well, I think I know…
In our kitchen we have a fruit-bowl with apples in it (and also bananas which I gather you should never have in the same bowl, they make the other things go off, but anyway…)
Often a new bag is bought, but there are still a few wrinkly ones left from before. Being the selfish person that I am, I usually take one out of the new bag, and since everyone else in the family (except my wife) does the same, the wrinkly ones eventually go off. But at least I am eating nice crunchy apples…
The other option, especially if I had a conscience, would be to eat the wrinkly ones first, at a rate of one or two a day, but by the time I get to the new bag THEY will have started to get old. I'll be doomed to never eat a crunchy apple again.
What is the meaning of all this?
Well, I think the jobs queueing up for your attention are the same as my apples. They arrive all fresh, and ideally you would do them straight away while there is no time pressure. But if you do that then other jobs will become overdue and there will be trouble.
So you have to do them in order, and every job is done (eaten) just before its deadline (wrinkly, nearly going off) and you never get ahead, you can never seem to do a job well in advance (eating it while still crunchy).
One solution would be to not buy any apples until all the old ones have been eaten. But restricting the work arriving onto your desk / in-box is not possible.
The only other option is to have a work binge (or get help for a short while) and clear the backlog so that you have no apples in the bowl and you can eat any newcomers as soon as they arrive. You only have to do this once, and then you can stay ahead by working at the same rate as you always did, just without the queue of jobs becoming more and more urgent.
You then have to have the self-discipline to resist slowing down because you know you can – you have the potential safety net of a buffer of queued work that you can allow to build up – you don't HAVE to do the jobs right now. Remember that the cost of procrastination is that once a queue has built up every job will be almost overdue when you do it. Much better that every job is done as soon as it arrives, and then every job is done with no stress, and done to its proper level of quality.
Be a Do It Now person!
May every apple you eat be crunchy!
You can sign up for Chris's monthly tips for free at www.free-management-tips.co.uk or for accounting, tax or similar advice please contact me or one of my Perrys colleagues.
Final thought: If I allow my apples to ferment into cider are they still one of my 'five a day'?