You are a wolf. At your job, you spend much of your day chasing, capturing, and eating field mice. At the end of your busy day, you feel exhausted but strangely unfulfilled. Why? Because the energy required to catch a field mouse is greater than the caloric content of the mouse. You can’t live on a diet of field mice. Trying to do so eventually results in starvation.
As a wolf, what you really want to eat is antelopes. Antelopes are big. Capturing one might require careful advance planning, cooperation with other wolves, and a full day of intense, focused hunting. Maybe even two or three days. But an antelope, when killed, provides you and your family a royal feast that can sustain you for a week.
The difference between the value of mice and antelopes is important when we think about our our daily to-do lists. If we spend our days chasing and eating field mice, we will enjoy the satisfaction of busy activity and short-term accomplishment. And we will get nowhere.
If, on the other hand, we spend our days pursuing antelopes (our most significant, highest payoff projects), we may need to plan better, work smarter, and wait longer to see the positive results of our efforts, but those results will move our organizations and our careers forward in measurable, even quantum ways.
Are you a mouse hunter, or an antelope hunter?
“The simple fact is that being busy is easier than not. Responding to each new request, chasing an answer to the latest question, and complaining about overwhelming demands are easier than setting priorities.”
— Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, A Bias For Action
Rob Crawford, a school administrator who loves baseball and acoustic guitars, writes on productivity and impact at Crawdaddy Cove. He thanks Tom Suddes at For Impact for the idea of the mice-antelopes metaphor.