Why completing a few pebbles before “Big Rock” priorities can make you more productive.


I admit this is a tough concept if you’ve been a believer and a practitioner of Stephen Covey’s First Things First principal.  This is one of the concepts from his 7 Habits of Highly Successful People book/training that was/is so popular.  While he may not have been the originator of the concept, Stephen Covey popularized it via a demonstration that you can still see.  Big Rocks Covey

Most of us suffer from a lack of focus on our “Big Rock” goals.  It seems much easier to succumb to the Tyranny of the Urgent and address those items (especially emails!) quickly.  Once you’ve done those, you have a long list of completed items.  Unfortunately, that may leave little time to focus on the bigger items that will be more complex, require more creativity and will probably be harder to complete.

Would you be surprised to learn that behavioral scientists have documented studies that show how important this desire for completing tasks is?  The phenomenon is called Completion Bias.  Studies have shown that individuals will tend to focus on tasks that can be completed quickly to gain satisfaction.  In the case of distractions, a failure to address small tasks may even contribute to productivity losses once attention is turned to larger tasks.

In her book Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan Francesca Gino* described how completion bias changes our decisions and behavior and can keeps us from achieving goals we do want to achieve.  One way some companies have used is to set a balance between short-term results and Big Rocks longer term goals.  It helps to have a plan for your day/week that allows you to remain focused on your top priorities but allows you to be flexible when you need to be.

It doesn’t take much searching to see that all of us are challenged to prioritize the big rocks.  Landscape business owners are no different than others in finding it difficult to identify and stay true to achieving their priorities.  It’s especially difficult if a business owner doesn’t have the infrastructure to support his operation.   When you don’t have the right people, processes, and tools in place to support customer and employee issues, it seems that urgent matters always win the competition.

It is possible to transform your work routine to avoid your own completion bias and deal with your major priorities for blocks of time.  I’ve seen business owners transform their businesses and themselves as they think about working on their business and make the time to focus on big rocks.

I encourage you to consider how you might transform your time.  Being more focused on your big rocks and harnessing your completion bias can help you become more productive and effective.   If you’d like to discuss this or other ways your company can maximize its value, we’d be happy to have a confidential complimentary conversation with you about these or any other exit/sales/buying issues.

You can reach me via email: [email protected] or on my cell phone a: 224-688-8838.  

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Francesca Gino is a behavioral scientist and the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She is the author of Rebel Talent and Sidetracked.

Alison Hoffman

has more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, mergers and acquisitions and delivering business-to-business client solutions. Her areas of expertise include managing operations for profitable growth, organizational design and strategy activation. She brings a wealth of experience through her work in evaluating, valuing and purchasing over 30 companies, leading company-wide cultural and business integration projects and consolidating best practices among business processes and corresponding computing systems. Read Full Bio