In reading the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution“, they talked a lot about “the whirlwind” — all of that junk you have to do every day just to keep moving forward. This largely includes email, but also many meetings, phone calls, and other distractions. These are things that are semi-important, but they often prevent you from getting to the truly important work.
A few quotes from the book really stood out to me when it comes to fighting the whirlwind. First is how it can prevent you from really executing your job:
“The real enemy of execution is your day job! We call it the whirlwind. It’s the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and ironically, it’ s also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs you of the focus required to move your team forward.”
You have a lot of things that are important, but performance tends to be much higher if you can focus on one at time. The book compares it to being an air traffic controller:
“Think of it this way. Right now more than a hundred airplanes might be approaching, taking off, or taxiing around, and all of them are very important, especially if you happen to be on one of them! But for the air traffic controller, only one airplane is wildly important right now—the one that’ s landing right at this moment.”
At the end, though, you can’t ignore the whirlwind. Living it in is bad, but ignoring it completely would be foolish:
“If you ignore the urgent, it can kill you today. It’s also true, however, that if you ignore the important, it can kill you tomorrow.”
The whirlwind is something we all face, and if nothing else I’m glad to have this new word to put around it. Sometimes I get caught in the whirlwind, and sometimes I put myself directly in it on purpose, but finding time to escape and dig in is where the real growth can come from.