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Don’t Let Trivial Trump the Important: Staying Focused on Priorities in the Midst of Trivial Distractions

Special Feature: Health & Wellness In Your Firm

This is Part Two of a Special Series on Health & Wellness
Part I: A Lesson to Learn from Cross Country Skiers: Pace Yourself
Part III: Minimize Assumptions
& Take the Guesswork out of the Equation

Have you ever played the game Trivial Pursuit? Chris Haney and Scott Abbott
were playing a round of Scrabble in 1979 when the idea for a new game began
to unfold in their minds. Within a few short hours, the two friends had mapped
out the basics of a game that would sweep across the land like a prairie fire.
The only thing about the game that isn’t trivial is its success.

It amazes me the amount of trivial information that bombards our lives on
a daily basis. With the advent of the Internet, such insignificant knowledge
has become even more prolific. Honestly, some of this trifling material is really
quite interesting. Take a look:

  • There are 119 grooves on the edge of a quarter.
  • Scarlett O’Hara, lead character in the classic, “Gone with
    the Wind,” was originally given the name Pansy. “Frankly, Pansy…”
    Uh, I don’t think so.
  • Number of places in the United States named after something in the Bible:
  • There are about 3,000 hot dog vendors in metropolitan New York.
  • Some Persian rugs may last as long as 500 years before wearing out.
  • The loop on a belt that holds the loose end is called a “keeper.”
    (Let’s face it; some are keeping back more than others.)
  • “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” written by Mark Twain, was
    the first novel ever composed on a typewriter.

This is interesting stuff, but is your life any better because you now know
the groove count on a U.S. quarter? Unfortunately, it is usually the trivial
that has a tendency to trump the important. We get caught up in issues that
have no lasting value as if they were equal to the weightier matters of faith,
family, career … or life itself. The challenge? Staying focused on our
priorities in the midst of trivial distractions.
No time of year is more critical for a tax and accounting professional to stay
focused than right now. Don’t let the trivial pursue you!
Apply these simple principles to your daily work, and you might just avoid the
minutia quicksand.

1. Use some common sense before accepting any new challenge. Reserve
your investment of time for those projects that matter most. Humorist Will
Rogers was right, “Common sense ain’t so common.” Sometimes,
the only deficit greater than the U.S. debt, is the scarcity of good judgment.
I remember as a kid when I put more food on my plate than I could eat, some
adult would inevitably accuse me of having “eyes bigger than my stomach.”
We do the same thing in business — our “want to” is often
bigger than our “can do” so we unwisely take on more work than
we can adequately handle. Use some common sense before saying yes to any new
challenge. At times, no is a really good answer!

2. Not every responsibility is of equal importance. I have
a friend who has a plaque on his office wall with the following quote from
Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
You have a limited amount of time and energy. You cannot work around the clock.
Determine what tasks are most important and do those first. There will be
time and space for the little things when the big things are done. You’ve
undoubtedly read the story used by Stephen Covey about the seminar lecturer
who filled a wide mouth jar with rocks and asked the class if the jar was
full. Most agreed it was, so to prove his point the professor added pebbles
that filled in around the rocks proving that it wasn’t truly full. He
followed that with sand and finally with water until the jar could hold nothing
else. When the lecturer asked what lesson had been learned, the class agreed
that there’s always room for more in life. Wrong! The real lesson illustrated
by the jar was this truth: Put the big rocks in first. Like the seminar class,
we assume there’s always room for more — another client, a new
project, etc. What we need to learn is how to keep the main thing the main
thing. Put the big rocks in first! Prioritize what is most important; pursue
the trivial later.

3. Use technology to help and not hinder the completion
of your tasks.
Analyze your current technological tools. Are they
accurate for today’s standards? Software or hardware that may have been
cutting edge five years is likely less efficient or even obsolete today. Would
you go to a surgeon who still uses ether as an anesthetic? Sure, it still
works, but it isn’t desirable! Make sure your technology isn’t
choking the life out of your time and energy. And don’t forget, even
though it’s beneficial, the Internet can be a real time waster during
this busy season. According to, the average American employee wastes
more than two hours a day at work, costing companies $759 billion a year.
As you can probably guess, personal Internet use is the number one time abuser.

4. Never compromise your character. I like what John Morley
wrote, “No man can climb beyond the limitations of his own character.”
This month, we observed President’s Day. Of all the great presidential
contributions, the most powerful have always come not from their calling but
their character. President George Washington said, “I hope I shall possess
firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of
all titles — the character of an honest man.” We may never be
elected to such a high office but we are all challenged to live with high
character. Anything less is just a trivial pursuit.

This is Part Two of a Special Series on Health & Wellness
Part I: A Lesson to Learn
from Cross Country Skiers: Pace Yourself

Part III: Minimize Assumptions
& Take the Guesswork out of the Equation


See inside February 2010

How Life at Chili’s is Like a Firm’s Service Model

Online Exclusive Column: MarketingWorks