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Pick-Up Sticks and Next Actions

Pick-Up Sticks and Next Actions
Pick-up Sticks

    Pick-up sticks. You know the game. You drop 33 colored sticks in a pile and take turns trying to pick them up, one at a time, without disturbing any of the other sticks in the process. If you pick-up a stick successfully, you get another turn.

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    It sounds like a simple game. Pick up the most sticks, and you win. But there’s a twist, and the twist makes the game a perfect metaphor for how to approach your “next action” list. You see, all the different-colored sticks have different point values. And a few of the
    sticks are worth more than all the others combined. So the number of sticks you end up with actually means a lot less than does the value of the sticks you
    successfully pick up.

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    My sons (ages 7 and 5) are competitive, and the first time they played pick-up sticks, they immediately “got it.” After I dropped the 33 sticks in a pile, they went right after the three blue sticks (worth 400 points) and the sole black stick (worth 1,000 points), even though there were sixteen yellow sticks (2 points), eight red sticks (4 points), and five green
    sticks (40 points) that were easier to grab. Their strategy was simple and effective: go after the big fish first; get those blue and black sticks; score the most points; win!

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    Neither of my sons is a genius, yet both of them understand intuitively that victory depends upon snagging the scarce blue and black sticks first.

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    And achievement principles are devilishly similar. In our own game of “pick-up sticks” (where the sticks are “next actions” on our daily to-do lists), we are seduced by the temptation to spend time and energy trying to pick up numerous yellow and red sticks. We
    find it’s easier to stay busy with the yellows and reds and it feels good to be successful over and over again, even though “winning” might actually require completing a single, challenging, important next-action and not necessarily completing lots of next actions. Following through on a single important phone call at 8:45am is often worth more than all the
    emails, meetings, and calls that are made the rest of the day!

    Of course, all of us do need to “pick-up” the yellows and the reds on our next action lists when we’re in the right context to do so. These represent commitments that must be fulfilled, regardless of their apparent “point values.” However, we must learn from the way my two young sons play pick-up sticks and remember that, in the end, winning the game of
    achievement hinges on identifying and “picking-up” the blue and black sticks on your next action list, not putting them off until another day in favor of the busy-trap’s yellows and reds.

    Rob Crawford, a school administrator who loves baseball and acoustic guitars, writes on productivity, impact, and happiness at Crawdaddy Cove.

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    Last Updated on December 13, 2019

    7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

    7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

    Are you keen to reinvent yourself this year? Or at least use the new year as a long overdue excuse to get rid of bad habits or pick up new ones?

    Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when we feel as if we have to turn over a new leaf. The time when we misguidedly imagine that the arrival of a new year will magically provide the catalyst, motivation and persistence we need to reinvent ourselves.

    Traditionally, New Year’s Day is styled as the ideal time to kick start a new phase in your life and the time when you must make your all important new year’s resolution. Unfortunately, the beginning of the year is also one of the worst times to make a major change in your habits because it’s often a relatively stressful time, right in the middle of the party and vacation season.

    Don’t set yourself up for failure this year by vowing to make huge changes that will be hard to keep. Instead follow these seven steps for successfully making a new year’s resolution you can stick to for good.

    1. Just Pick One Thing

    If you want to change your life or your lifestyle don’t try to change the whole thing at once. It won’t work. Instead pick one area of your life to change to begin with.

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    Make it something concrete so you know exactly what change you’re planning to make. If you’re successful with the first change you can go ahead and make another change after a month or so. By making small changes one after the other, you still have the chance to be a whole new you at the end of the year and it’s a much more realistic way of doing it.

    Don’t pick a New Year’s resolution that’s bound to fail either, like running a marathon if you’re 40lbs overweight and get out of breath walking upstairs. If that’s the case resolve to walk every day. When you’ve got that habit down pat you can graduate to running in short bursts, constant running by March or April and a marathon at the end of the year. What’s the one habit you most want to change?

    2. Plan Ahead

    To ensure success you need to research the change you’re making and plan ahead so you have the resources available when you need them. Here are a few things you should do to prepare and get all the systems in place ready to make your change.

    Read up on it – Go to the library and get books on the subject. Whether it’s quitting smoking, taking up running or yoga or becoming vegan there are books to help you prepare for it. Or use the Internet. If you do enough research you should even be looking forward to making the change.

    Plan for success – Get everything ready so things will run smoothly. If you’re taking up running make sure you have the trainers, clothes, hat, glasses, ipod loaded with energetic sounds at the ready. Then there can be no excuses.

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    3. Anticipate Problems

    There will be problems so make a list of what they’ll be. If you think about it, you’ll be able to anticipate problems at certain times of the day, with specific people or in special situations. Once you’ve identified the times that will probably be hard work out ways to cope with them when they inevitably crop up.

    4. Pick a Start Date

    You don’t have to make these changes on New Year’s Day. That’s the conventional wisdom, but if you truly want to make changes then pick a day when you know you’ll be well-rested, enthusiastic and surrounded by positive people. I’ll be waiting until my kids go back to school in February.

    Sometimes picking a date doesn’t work. It’s better to wait until your whole mind and body are fully ready to take on the challenge. You’ll know when it is when the time comes.

    5. Go for It

    On the big day go for it 100%. Make a commitment and write it down on a card. You just need one short phrase you can carry in your wallet. Or keep it in your car, by your bed and on your bathroom mirror too for an extra dose of positive reinforcement.

    Your commitment card will say something like:

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    • I enjoy a clean, smoke-free life.
    • I stay calm and in control even under times of stress.
    • I’m committed to learning how to run my own business.
    • I meditate daily.

    6. Accept Failure

    If you do fail and sneak a cigarette, miss a walk or shout at the kids one morning don’t hate yourself for it. Make a note of the triggers that caused this set back and vow to learn a lesson from them.

    If you know that alcohol makes you crave cigarettes and oversleep the next day cut back on it. If you know the morning rush before school makes you shout then get up earlier or prepare things the night before to make it easier on you.

    Perseverance is the key to success. Try again, keep trying and you will succeed.

    7. Plan Rewards

    Small rewards are great encouragement to keep you going during the hardest first days. After that you can probably reward yourself once a week with a magazine, a long-distance call to a supportive friend, a siesta, a trip to the movies or whatever makes you tick.

    Later you can change the rewards to monthly and then at the end of the year you can pick an anniversary reward. Something that you’ll look forward to. You deserve it and you’ll have earned it.

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    Whatever your plans and goals are for this year, I’d do wish you luck with them but remember, it’s your life and you make your own luck.

    Decide what you want to do this year, plan how to get it and go for it. I’ll definitely be cheering you on.

    Are you planning to make a New Year’s resolution? What is it and is it something you’ve tried to do before or something new? Why not pick one from this list: 50 New Year’s Resolution Ideas And How To Achieve Each Of Them

    Featured photo credit: Ian Schneider via unsplash.com

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