Push an Inch or Push a Mile. Your Call
I had just turned 38 and had a small group of friends meet up at a pool bar in Seattle for some drinks, food and catching up. Nothing fancy. Just reconnecting with the people in my life that I simply didn’t spend enough time with. I was at a transition time in my professional life where I was trying to figure out the “next thing” I wanted to tackle and felt like having a lot of “balls in the air” meant that I was making progress and it was cool to have a lot going on. Nice cocktail party conversation but not a recipe for success.
As I’m standing on the sidewalk about to head home, my good friend, Andy Sack, made a comment to me that has been imprinted in my brain for the last 6+ years. After sharing with him all the “things that are keeping me busy”, he said, “Russell, you know that whatever you sink your teeth into you can make something happen but are you going to push one thing a mile or a bunch of things an inch?” That really hit me hard and made me re-assess in that moment how I should be prioritizing my time. The next day, I narrowed my focus and what ultimately resulted was the founding and capitalizing of EveryMove.
I think this happens to a lot of us where we have a lot going on and feeling busy feels productive and feels like progress. I certainly felt that. We think we are good at multi-tasking but that simply isn’t true. The data doesn’t support it. Multi-tasking is just unproductive and stressful.
When I talk about having a lot of things going on, it really is about how time is spent. For example, you could have a lot of investments in companies but if you don’t run those companies and aren’t expected to be a critical producer (producer defined as being responsible for conceiving, executing and delivering of a work product), then you’re not conflicted. But if you have producer responsibilities (could be sales, product management, marketing, etc.), it is going to be hard to span your genius across multiple initiatives and expect the impact to be outstanding.
But what if I’m a consultant, you might ask? The truth is that as a consultant, you will not push an initiative a mile (disproportionately outsized impact) unless you are solely focused on that business. You just won’t. It’s not a criticism at all. In fact, consultants can have a very important role to play in helping an organization get its own priorities in order and focus on the critical few. But you, as an individual, will not be a change maker in a material way.
As I have transitioned to a new trajectory experiencing building a life abroad (a seriously big initiative I’m trying to push a mile) I happen to have a lot of balls in the air right now so I’m not feeling like I’m pushing something a mile and that is unsettling. I hear Andy in my head on a daily basis. I want to be mile-pushing ASAP. When I am, I actually free up time to be more creative, think, de-stress and spend time with my family because I’m not trying to keep so many initiatives in play.
Whether you apply the axiom of pushing a mile or a bunch of things an inch to your life or to the management of your business, the purpose is still the same. When you focus on the critical few things that create the value, you WILL make something meaningful happen. When you have a bunch of things going on without dedicating resources disproportionately to the critical few, you will move things forward slowly and unlikely be the game changer you want to be.