Lessons for Life and Leadership from the Lawn

I wanted to name this series “Lessons from the Garden” because it sounds nice and gardens are beautiful. However, I kill plants inside and out on a regular basis so that seemed misleading. In truth, I spent much of the summer of 2016 weeding my front yard. It wasn’t glamorous and didn’t result in anything with splendid color. I toyed with the idea of “Lessons from the Yard,” but I thought that title made it sound like I was in prison. I decided on “lawn,” and whatever you call it, I learned a lot sitting in the grass for a summer.

 Lesson 7: Don’t Let the Ivy Job Distract You

Toward the end of the summer, my enthusiasm for weeding began to wane. I was trying to finish the job before I went out of town for a couple of weeks. I had saved one scraggly patch of hard ground that was full of weeds for the end. I was probably hoping that I wouldn’t have enough time to get to it – but I did.

That last challenging strip was near a fence. On the other side of the fence was ivy that was growing through the fence. Pulling the ivy off the fence was a job that needed to be done. I considered pausing in my weeding and diverting my energy to ivy removal.

It was tempting. I’d been weeding for a couple of months and the last piece of lawn was tedious work. Pulling ivy off the fence was relatively quick and gratifying. However, if I took on the ivy job, I would not have time to finish the weeding.

When we are working on a project in life, there is often ivy there to distract us. A task or project that is worthwhile, but not something we intentionally planned to do, is an Ivy Job. An Ivy Job is a temptation because it’s different and maybe easier than the main work that is on our list of things to do. The Ivy Job could be checking social media or calling to check on a friend. Or, it could be putting the new shower curtain rings on the shower curtain – which is exactly the Ivy Job that I just let myself get sucked into when I took a bathroom break. It’s important to realize that the Ivy Job is a distraction! Don’t get distracted! We want to finish the main job that we started.

If we have planned in alignment with our priorities and an Ivy Job is not on our list, then it isn’t something we should be doing at that moment. Knowing what’s a main job and what’s an Ivy Job takes some consideration and a clear picture of your short- and long-term goals. The key is to decide each evening what three things you are going to accomplish the next day that will move you toward your goals. Those three things are the main jobs of the day, and they should be finished before any of the day-to-day Ivy Jobs. If you know what’s important, it’s easier to stick with it and not get sidetracked.

Even if we know the task is important, it takes self-discipline to stay at a job beyond our motivation. Sometimes our energy and enthusiasm wane. Luckily for us, self-discipline is something that we can strengthen and master. It’s like a muscle; the more you use your self-discipline, the stronger it gets. We can do workouts for our self-discipline just like we work out at the gym.

One of my favorite self-discipline workouts is doing the laundry. Anyone leave the laundry sitting in the washer? Dryer? Any flat surface in the house? If you want to observe a married couple argue, ask them about their laundry procedure. It’s a trigger for almost everyone – and a necessity of life. We all have to get our laundry done so let’s do it right and use it for self-discipline practice.

The first step in any job is to make time for it and to commit to doing it. We start with the intention of finishing completely. It’s a mindset. I think of it as finishing strong. When I get tired in the middle of a task or project, I remind myself that my goal is to finish strong.

A mantra can help. It’s just a phrase that you repeat over and over to yourself that’s a reminder of what is important to you and why. When my motivation starts to flag, I say to myself, “Kathy, you are not a wimp or a quitter. Get going and finish strong. Make yourself proud.”  Leaders are finishers. Great leaders don’t leave unfinished jobs strewn about in their wake. Leaders get things done completely and pay attention to the details until the end. They finish strong.

For our self-discipline workout, we start by committing to do the laundry. Then, we choose a time when we can see it through to the end. Having a plan is important. I might start the whites or regulars and then go run an errand, but when the dryer stops, I am ready to fold and put away the laundry. Clothes that sit in the dryer get wrinkled and can create more work.

Once the dryer stops, go get the clothes, fold them, and put them away. Boy does that sound simple! It can be if we don’t use a lot of emotional energy fighting the process. Take a breath and don’t give the laundry an emotional charge. It’s just laundry. It needs to be done. Remind yourself of the satisfied feeling of finishing a job. Come up with a mantra and repeat it to yourself. Keep in mind that you are practicing self-discipline. It’s all about finishing something worthwhile that isn’t fun. Successful people can do that. You can do that.

After a while, getting the laundry folded and put away is a task that you can do with ease. You have the correct mindset; it’s a necessary task and a worthwhile use of your time. Your self-discipline muscle is stronger, which makes it easier to power through a job to the end even if it isn’t enjoyable. You don’t get distracted by the Ivy Jobs. You remind yourself with your mantra that finishing every job is something you do because you are a person who finishes what you start. You finish strong. It’s amazing how good that makes you feel.

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