Be careful what you wish for

We’ve all seen shows where the hero is granted three wishes and they don’t quite get what they had in mind. And the same goes for setting targets.

I used to work in supermarkets to fund my way through uni. One of these was in central London and with so many customers living close to the store they often took trolleys all the way home and didn’t bother to return them.

About once a month the trolley boys would be asked to come in on a Sunday and go further afield to collect them in return for £5 per trolley. Not surprisingly, on the Saturday afternoon they would pay local kids to ‘hide’ some trolleys in a pre-agreed location for £1 each. So the store ended up paying for trolleys that were never ‘lost’ and the trolley boys made £4-5 per trolley that they ‘found’.

We must always be careful when setting targets that they prompt the desired behaviour.

How to work within your limits

I’m a terrible gardener. Gardening is too active for my lazy days and too sedentary for my active days. Whilst I love eating fruit and veg that I’ve grown myself that goal alone isn’t enough to inspire me to put in the regular labour required even for the few things that I do try to grow.

As you might expect, for me this demonstrates a few things in the business world.

1. You need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that will really inspire you on your lazy days. Just something ‘nice’ isn’t enough. Have a picture by your work station of your kids, your next holiday, your new car or whatever your reason for your business. In my case I have a seashell on my desk because I want to run my business remotely from somewhere near the sea.

2. You need tasks to do on your lazy days that will still move you closer to your goal. I’m quite happy to fiddle around with an online garden planner and order some seeds and compost. In the office it’s a good time to file or tidy up or clear some old emails. At the moment I’m writing this to avoid some other work but it will save me time later in the week.

3. You can find ways of making laborious tasks more enjoyable. If we’re all in the garden it’s much more fun and the work is shared. Even Grumpy Cat loves to join us outside. Pre-Covid our village ‘Working from Home’ group would spend Friday mornings working in one of the two local pubs.

4. Work at your best times. Whilst it might not suit most people I sometimes enjoy digging in the rain when the soil is softer. It’s another reason I believe in flexible working.

5. Know your limits and outsource where possible. About the only thing that I manage to grow in the garden is courgettes. (And none of the family really like courgettes!) So I order a weekly box of veg from the local farm shop effectively sourcing my fresh food production to somebody who is far better than me. I outsource work to those who are better than me, faster than me or just enjoy it more than me.

Anyway, I’m off to water my new apple tree and blueberry bushes in the hope of keeping them alive just a little longer.