Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Thanh Pham of Asian Efficiency, because, well he is both Asian and Efficient. Thanh offers practical and thoughtful advice on better ways to do better work. Today he’s taking a page out of Switch, a recent book from the Heath Brothers, and is talking about elephants… you know, the metaphorical types that can help you get wherever it is you want to go.
Thanh and the team at Asian Efficiency also introduced a brand new product for OmniFocus today. If you’re looking to get more out of OmniFocus, I suggest you check it out. It offers a comprehensive strategy for getting the most out of one of my favorite applications.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re in South Africa a couple centuries ago. It’s hot, sunny, you live in the safari and you’re itching to go out and explore. One day you came up with the idea to visit Europe – the continent thousands of miles up north. It has always been your dream to explore this new continent ever since you were a little kid.
So one day you decide to take action on this. The only thing you have to do to get there is to ride your elephant all the way up north – long enough until you reach the beaches that separate Africa from Europe.
As you sit on your elephant, you check your compass and you direct your elephant to go north. The route to Europe is not complicated – you just have to check your compass and follow the arrow that points north.
Along the way, you try to follow the path that others have taken before because it provides the least amount of resistance and it gives you the smoothest journey. But most of all, it’s the fastest route to Europe.
It’s not an easy feat to go all the way from the south to the north. It’s a journey. It takes time. It takes commitment. And most of all, you always need to be aware of where you’re heading to. When you don’t know where to go or what to do, your elephant will wander off, walk around in circles and take you to other places. She will follow and do what it will want at that moment. She is much stronger than you and once she takes on its own will, there is not much you can do but it’s always your responsibility to guide the elephant into the right direction.
Why am I telling you this? It’s one of my favorite analogies for achieving big goals. You see, the rider is your logical part of the you. It’s that part of you that is conscious, can plan things, has willpower, and can make calculated decisions.
The elephant represents the emotional part of your brain. It’s much stronger than the rider and it wants to do whatever it feels like it in the moment when it’s unattended. If she’s hungry, she will go out of her way and find food. If she’s tired, she will stop and rest. The rider needs to take care of his elephant or she will do what she feels like…oftentimes detrimental to the rider’s purpose.
It’s your job as the rider to guide and nurture your elephant. If you don’t know what to do and have no clarity, the elephant certainly won’t either. She wants to follow your direction but if you can’t provide it, she will do her own thing. She just wants to live in the moment and follow her own instincts. That’s why you always have to stay on top and tell the elephant what to do to stay the course.
How does this work in today’s world? You need to know and define what your big goal is. There needs to be absolute clarity in this. What does the end result look like? Clearly define this so that once you have it, you can say to yourself, “I’ve made it.” Going to Asia is bad. Going to Ho Chi Minh City for 2 weeks in August is better. Write a book is bad. Have my book on Mac productivity published before the end of the year is better.
When you clearly know your big goal and what it looks like, you can tame your emotional self that often wants to fight you and do something else. If you can’t, it will lead to procrastination. No motivation to get things done. Half attempts and lack of effort in what you want to do. An unclear and badly defined road ahead makes it easy for you to wander off.
But you, as the rider, need to constantly remind yourself to guide the elephant. You can have sticky notes all over your office and house with your goals. You can set reminders on your calendar. You can review your goals every morning before you get to work. All these variations of you looking at your compass will help you be aware of where you need to go.
It’s this everyday awareness that will propel you to get closer and closer to your destination. It allows you to guide your elephant and take care of it. She just wants to be fed with the right information and guided. When you nurture your elephant, it will listen to you and go the extra mile for you. This means resting enough, taking breaks, having a strong reason why you’re doing this, understanding what the true benefits are of this journey, feeding it the right food and motivating her to keep going.
Once you have these two things in place, then following the path becomes easy and it will be just a matter of completing the journey. We often don’t know how to get to the final destination. We know the starting point and the destination, but the path to it is often unknown. As you go through your journey, when your elephant is not properly taken care of, it will be give in to whatever comes her way. She might be tempted by the river where other fellow elephants are and seek temporary companionship. She might want to follow another path because it’s sunnier and easier to navigate. But you need to guide her and do what’s best for the mission.
That means resisting temptation. That means staying in Friday night and working on your project. That means saying “no” to others. That means making sacrifices that might not feel good in the short run but that will advance you. Whatever it takes, stay on the right path and don’t get derailed.
Big goals don’t come easy. You’ll have to go through a journey and resist temptation that will lure you to go other places. Try to follow your compass. Guide your elephant. Stay on the path. When all these three are aligned it will ultimately get you where you want to be.