My wife and I were paddling in a canoe. She was in the front, and I was in the back. Her paddle was on the right, and mine was on the left.
I kept getting the sense that I was paddling the boat alone.
I knew that wasn’t the case because she was right in front of me. I could see her paddle entering the water, sliding along next to the boat, and coming out of the water at the end of her stroke.
She was paddling.
But it didn’t feel like she was helping me move the boat forward. It felt like we were stuck, and it was taking all my energy to inch the canoe forward.
Why was it so hard to move forward?
Motion Does Not Equal Forward Movement
As we paddled, I talked to her. I asked her about her paddling. She became defensive, and an argument ensued (I probably shouldn’t have told her she was “breathing wrong” when we went snorkeling on our honeymoon: that set a bad precedent).
After a great deal of discussion—during which nearly all paddling came to a halt—we determined that she was paddling but that her strokes weren’t moving the boat forward.
She was moving her paddle along at the same speed as the boat. She would put her paddle in the water and let it move along with the flow of the river. She wasn’t applying any pressure. She wasn’t exerting herself in any manner whatsoever.
She was paddling wrong!
We (I say “we” on the off chance that she reads this article) were confusing motion with progress. She wasn’t moving the boat forward even though it looked like she was helping with the paddling.
It’s Easy to Get Confused
It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of the day and shuffle things around without getting anything done.
Certainly, you’ve “straightened” up your desk before jumping in and doing the work, right? Somehow when we do that, we accomplish nothing other than the straightening, and none of the work gets done.
Haven’t you had entire days of “straightening” where you accomplished nothing at all?
Yep, that’s motion, but it’s not progress.
Sometimes I feel like I spend entire weeks with lots of motion but without any progress. It’s depressing when I see how little I’ve done.
However, it’s tough to identify motion without progress. We get up in the morning and start moving. We’re doing things. We feel like we’re contributing.
Only later do we realize that it’s motion and not progress.
Later, when we look at the to-do list, we realize that we haven’t really moved forward. We’ve just “straightened the desk.”
Recognizing the Problem
Lots of activities result in motion without progress:
- We move from one task management system to another. This one’s my favorite.
- We move from one practice management system to the next.
- We switch cell phones.
- We migrate from one laptop to the next.
- We figure out how to use our iPad in our practice.
- We read books about marketing and business.
- We reorganize client files.
- We debate issues with our partners.
- We talk to our peers about why our employees behave badly.
Motion, not progress.
If you’re doing these things—like I am—you know who you are, and you know what I mean. You’re stuck. You end the day right where you started. Your canoe isn’t moving.
They say the first step is knowing you have a problem.
I know I have a problem.
My hope is that with some focus on the issue, I can put my paddle in the water, apply the appropriate amount of pressure, and move forward. I’d like to make progress.