gardening_0Picture this.  It’s a beautiful spring day and you’re meeting a couple of friends at Starbucks for breakfast.  Afterwards, as you walk out, you spot an open house and the three of you decide to check it out.  It’s the house of your dreams and you decide then and there you want to buy it.  Money is no object for you, so you don’t need to worry about the mortgage.  One of your friends happens to be a home inspector so he checks it out on the spot and tells you the house is in perfect condition.  The other friend happens to be an appraiser and tells you it is worth $100,000 more than the asking price.  Long story short, the house is yours by lunchtime.

Now, I’m sure my friends in the real estate business would point to a myriad of reasons this little story couldn’t happen, but that only goes to further my point, which is this: achieving goals, especially important ones, is less like hunting and more like gardening.

There’s a lot of self-help advice out there these days that urges us not to over-think things and “just do it!” While I agree with the spirit of that advice, there are a lot of good reasons we slow down our progress with thought.  What’s really important, however, is to use those careful considerations to move the process forward, rather than use them to talk us out of doing anything.

A hunting approach to challenges sets us up for failure.  See challenge A, throw spear at it, fail to execute, go hungry.  Conclusion: challenge A is not possible.  Next step: feel less confident about challenge B.

A gardening approach to challenges recognizes the reality, that important challenges take time.  They require nurturing vital elements like relationships, trust, and knowledge.  You need to water these elements every day, but every day your progress grows.  In the end you are able to reliably reap your rewards because you have reliably moved the process forward in stages.

Important goals, like buying a house, cannot be accomplished in a morning, any more than taking down a mammoth with a single spear. Important goals require a well-planned series of reliable steps forward.

Good organizing is only a means to a goal, but the very acts of getting and staying organized requires a series of reliable stages that is akin to gardening.

For example, let’s say you’ve just returned to your office with a full tote bag of handouts from a trade show and you have a meeting in 12 minutes.  You don’t have enough time to follow up with all the leads from the trade show, but you do have enough time to move the process forward.  Extract the useful business cards from the marketing material you felt obligated to take at the time, but have no intention of reading, toss that material, and place your useful cards on your desk.  Keep the promotional items you might actually use (maybe a pen or letter slitter) and toss the rest. Keep any candy you might have collected in the bag and take it home to your kids.  After your meeting you will be unburdened by all that trade show junk and able to focus on what really matters: the new leads that are sitting on your desk.

Another example of moving the process forward has to do with how you handle the daily mail.  Chances are you don’t have time to process it all the minute it comes in the door, but you can move the process forward reliably by doing a quick sort.

If you use Social Media to promote your business, like I do, I’m sure you’ve found it very distracting.  Again, the key is to garden, not hunt.  Let’s say you are busy researching a product online for a client, when you come across a helpful article, which would be great to share with your  Twitter followers.  If you switch gears and copy the link, open up Tweet Deck, add comments, respond to other Tweets, schedule Retweets, etc.—these actions could take several minutes.  If, however, you simply copy this link to a link corral- a simple Word document where you collect links– this action only takes seconds, allowing you to return your focus to your research.  Later, when your mind is in social media mode, you will be able to refer to your link corral and hit the ground running.

We stopped being cavemen a long time ago, but we still tend to carry the expectation of see-act-achieve now.  And it still frustrates us when that doesn’t happen.  Getting things done requires embracing the gardening approach.  Nurture your progress in stages and watch it grow.