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How your work is like birds chasing berries

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

Many years ago, I was walking north on the main quad at the University of Illinois. It was late spring and the trees had been in full bloom for quite a few weeks. Several of the trees on the east side of the quad had some sort of berries on them. They were all full of berries and the birds were having a heyday.

I was in an introspective mood, so I paused for a few minutes to watch the birds. I noticed very quickly that none of the birds stayed in one spot for very long. They would hop to a new place, eat one or two of the berries, and then move on to a new place.

The birds had plenty of berries to eat in each spot they went. If they had wanted, they could have easily stayed on one branch and eaten ten to twenty berries without having to move.

But still they moved around.

I started to think to myself how often we all fall into this trap of moving around - flitting from branch to branch, jumping and flying to a new spot because we see so many more berries in that new spot.

I will often catch myself, like those birds, jumping from one task to another. There are plenty of tasks to do. No shortage of tasks. I look at my large list of to-do items and sub-consciously say to myself, "if I work on all of them at the same time, surely THEN I'll get them done faster."

But we all know that's not the case. You can never be as effective working on many things as you are working on only one thing.

So why do we think that we can be the exception? I have SO much to do. I have to work on everything.

I've found that by stopping all work and finding the single task that will get me the greatest results from its completion, I can actually get more done in less time. But this takes work - and time away from that beloved to-do list.

Every day (when I'm good), I will start my day off by asking of myself, "What are the three things that, if I did them today, I will have had a successful and productive day?" I then write those three things down and order them in order of most beneficial to least beneficial.

Now remember, they're all important. They wouldn't be on your to-do list if they weren't important. But they can't all be the MOST important item. So I instead prioritize the tasks that will result in the greatest return on my investment of time.

For each of us at Puzzle Labs, we start the week off by doing the same thing, only with tasks that will take longer than just one day. We ask ourselves what three goals we would like to work on this week. And then we create a project out of them in

Each project has three components to it, each with tasks and sub-tasks:

1. Plan

2. Build

3. Deliver

The "plan" tasks include deciding what to do, outlining things, and mapping out the process for getting to "done". The "build" tasks include creating and designing and generating the thing that will help you accomplish the goal. Finally, the "deliver" tasks are sharing and publishing and shipping what it was that you built.

So next time you're feeling overwhelmed with too many to-do items. OR if you feel like you keep jumping from task to task and never actually get things done, decide which actions you should prioritize. Pick three of them. And then focus on one at a time until it is done.

Good luck! And happy tasking!

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