Slow and Steady

There’s the old story of the tortoise and the hare we were all told as kids

The hare is so confident and complacent that he starts strong in the race then mucks about, sprints for a bit and forgets the fact that he’s in a race; he falls asleep and his complacency costs him as the slower, older tortoise wins.

So if that old fable is true, why then do we embrace this crazy #Hustle notion, work all hours and generally chase and chase until we’re practically dead, and use legit burnout as a sign that maybe we should slow down a little bit? On reflection over a year, this is not the kind of work pattern that takes a business to the next level, slow and steady is.

You learn life lessons in unexpected places

When I was 16, I worked at Tesco. I’m not sure what the US equivalent is – Walmart, I guess. It was my job to supplement the newspapers and put out the magazines. Most days it was cool, very little supplementing, not many mags to worry about. Saturdays, however, were a totally different beast.

Over 3,000 newspapers needed something put in them so you’re sat on the floor with a pile of papers, the supplement to your right, you open the paper, put the supplement in and move it to the left and keep cracking on. Three, thousand, times. This took absolutely hours! For over a year it took me 7 hours. I’d start at 5am and I’d be SWEATING by midday when I finished if I was lucky. Most weekends it was 1 or 2pm before I was done.

I was brought in to replace Dennis. A slow, 72-year-old guy who clearly didn’t get the retirement memo and this guy, I don’t know how he did it but this dude would start at the same time as me, take 2 15-minute breaks, go out to smoke and he’d be done by 10:30am. Every, single, week.

One week, they messed the rota up and we both ended up working. It was at this point I could quiz the infamous Dennis about how he managed to do this ridiculous task so quickly. I told him I would do the magazines while he started on the newspapers and I’d join him when I was done. I finish them up at about 9am and go up to the break room, said I was done and which papers did he want me to do. “They’re all done kid”.

I sat Dennis down and tried to learn his trick

“Dennis, tell me your trick, there has to be something you’re doing that’s different. I sweat buckets every week trying to get this thing done by the time my shift finishes and here you are taking breaks and you’re done mid-morning!”

He just sat there drinking his coffee without a care in the world.

“There’s no trick, you just supplement the newspapers”.

“Dude, I am doing it as fast as I can. There has to be something you’re doing I’m not”

He just smiled.

“Did you ever wonder if maybe it’s something you’re doing that I’m not? You talk to your friends, tidy up, look at the new phones in the electrical department, helped a mate drag a cage from one side of the shop to the other when all it had was crisps on it. Your focus is on getting through the day not doing the newspapers.

“Just focus on doing it slowly and steadily. Just get that one task done then worry about the other stuff later”.

The lessons that will make you a better businessperson or a better person in general, don’t come from Medium articles or from some 19-year-old kid on Instagram. They come from guys like Dennis nearly 17 years after you first heard it.

Dennis is going to be 90 at some point this year and he could probably still do the newspapers quicker than me.

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