I recently had a conversation with a career pilot for a commercial airline. At least once a week, he makes a transatlantic flight to Paris, France.
I asked the question I had always wondered: “So, that’s a really long flight. What, exactly, do you do in the cockpit for all those hours to make sure you make it to Paris?”
“Really?” he said.
“Yes – in non-technical terms.”
“OK,” he responded. Here’s the simplest way I can describe what we do. First, we take off. Then, we aim the plane toward Paris. Then we land.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Well, sort of. Once we take off, we encounter wind – and it blows us off course. So we have to re-aim for Paris. Then wind comes from a different direction, so we have to aim for Paris again. The wind and other forces are constantly taking us off course. So every few minutes, we have to aim for Paris again.”
“It’s all about aiming for Paris. Every decision we make is based on going to Paris. Otherwise, we might end up somewhere else without knowing how we got there.”
I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of things clamoring for my attention. Work pressures grow; family relationships take energy; the yard always needs to be mowed. No matter how many things I check off my to-do list, there are always more waiting to take their place.
It seems like every day brings dozens of decisions for me to make. Most of the time, they carry a sense of urgency. Some of them are important. But many of them just pretend to be important.
When we’re pummeled with urgent things, it’s easy to get distracted from the truly important things. How can we protect ourselves from the tyranny of the urgent?
We need to remind ourselves that we’re going to Paris.
If we review our flight plan often, it helps us make smaller decisions:
- “Should I make this phone call?”
- “Should I accept this lunch invitation?”
- “Should I serve on this committee?”
- “Should I spend time with this person?”
Doing all those things might give us good results, and have some payoff. But we don’t want anything to distract us from getting to Paris.
The best way to evaluate these opportunities is by asking, “Will this help me reach my destination, or is it getting in the way?” As good as it might seem, we need to keep our focus on our destination. Otherwise, the “good” crowds out the “best.”
What’s your destination for 2013? Where would you like to be on December 31 of next year that would make the biggest difference in your life?
Then, work backwards:
- Decide where you need to be at the end of each month to reach your destination for next year.
- Decide where you need to be at the end of each week – to reach your monthly goal.
- Decide what you need to do each day to finish the week on track.
Once you know what to do today, schedule those on your calendar and do them as early as possible in your day. That way, when the urgent things hit, you can fit them around the important things you’ve already scheduled.
If we don’t, we’ll be at the mercy of the urgencies of others.
If we do, we’ll make progress toward out destination without being distracted.
We’ll make it to Paris.
What distracts you from achieving what matters most?