In the spring of 2014 Admiral William H. McRaven gave the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Texas. His inspiring remarks touched on 10 different life lessons he had learned during his time training to become a Navy Seal. However, it was the first lesson he shared that made the biggest impression on his audience and even became the title of the best-selling book based on those 10 lessons: Make Your Bed. In his speech Admiral McRaven noted that, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
During this unusual time when helpful social structures have been replaced by unnatural social distancing restrictions it is this simplest of lessons that could be the most important as fundraising professionals (and professionals of all stripes for that matter) try to focus on their responsibilities. If we consider the wisdom in Admiral McRaven’s first life lesson we can avoid the traps that an unstructured environment might be laying at our feet and establish practices that lead to professional growth and success.
As shelter in place restrictions began to take hold across the country professionals who once were able to organize their daily responsibilities around office arrival times, team meetings, direct reports and other normal interactions that make up a typical day at the office found themselves as if they were on a ship without a rudder. The lack of personal interactions and restrictions on movement combined with distractions of family life have made it extremely difficult for professionals to stay organized and focused. If we don’t address this lack of structure head we could be setting ourselves up for failure.
Whether it’s making your bed, going on a morning run or starting with some time to reflect on the day ahead, heeding Admiral McRaven’s advice to “accomplish the first task of the day” will set you up for a much more productive and successful day. St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish Saint who lived in the 20th century and taught how professional work done well is a means to grow closer to God, encouraged individuals to live “the Heroic Minute” waking up early and at the same time every day. He challenged professionals, “If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.” Numerous studies have also shown that waking up early at a consistent time has numerous benefits that enhance professional success including having more energy, developing better problem-solving capabilities and the ability to be more collaborative with others.
Once you have won that first battle you will be ready to engage with the rest of the day. Be sure to have daily, weekly and monthly goals that guide your work throughout the day. If you find it difficult to find motivation on where to begin start with a few little goals and, as Admiral McRaven stated it, “will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another”. By sticking to a consistent schedule and working through your goals each day you’ll find yourself using your time more effectively, growing in productivity and staying on track to achieve the goals you have set that will determine your success.
A few final points to consider as you continue to work from home. The “Heroic Minute” doesn’t only refer to the consistent time to wake up but also a consistent time to go to bed. The more regular your sleep patterns, the easier it will be to wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. Binge watching streaming series or catching up on video games or movies until the wee hours of the night won’t contribute to a successful time working from home. And finally, try to carve out time throughout the day to spend time with family as well as to get outside for exercise. This unexpected time of isolation requires flexibility that takes into consideration your own physical and mental health as well as the well-being of those who depend on you. So, let’s set a schedule that encourages productivity while making time for friends and family. If we do, we will not only come out of this circumstance in a better position to succeed professionally we can be assured that, like making our bed every morning, it will “also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter”.