For the last couple of months, I have been spending my time in West Virginia supervising a construction job. A big part of my responsibility here is to optimize and coordinate work between different contractors so that the overall project progresses efficiently. So I am continuously involved in assessing the resources available, the tasks to be accomplished, the sequence of those tasks, and how many (and which) people can be working at any given time – all to ensure that the overall schedule moves forward without any undue delays.
On one such day sometime last month, we had to accomplish a certain amount of excavation work and a certain amount of non-excavation work. But space constraints dictated that the large excavator that was scheduled to be used for the excavation work could not start the work until the contractor doing the non-excavation work got done with his task and got his men out of the way. The large excavator and the earth mover were on standby, waiting for the space to be cleared out for them to start working. This was clearly a waste of time and resources and I was looking for something – anything – that could help the situation.
I considered the mini-excavator sitting idly at a corner of the site. The amount of work that needed to be done was quite significant, which is why I wondered if the mini excavator would be able to contribute in any meaningful way. The size of the excavating bucket on the mini was minuscule compared to the size of the bucket on the large excavator. Not only that, even the power the bucket on the mini could apply on the hard soil paled in comparison to the large excavator. Generally speaking, the mini excavator accomplished in an hour what the large excavator could possibly accomplish in less than 10 minutes. And with the large excavator seeming like it could start working at any point, I wondered about the utility of using the mini to do any work at all.
But like I said, I was looking for something – anything – to help with the situation. So I asked the excavating contractor to get the mini up and running. This was at about 11 AM. For the next 6-7 hours, I watched the non-excavation crew continue to ‘complete’ their job, while the large excavator continued to be on standby. And all this time, the mini excavator plowed on the dirt with its small bucket and far inferior power. It kept digging as much as it possibly could, only pausing to refuel at one point. Nobody initially seemed to care much for the work that was being accomplished by the mini. It was only around 4 PM or so that we all started to notice the significant amount of area that the mini had excavated out. And by the time we stopped work for the day at about 6 in the evening, the mini had accomplished way more than what we had expected it to.
It was a moment of pure inspiration. “That right there is the perfect analogy for anything and everything you are trying to accomplish in your life,” I told my co-worker. Indeed, there were so many lessons to be learnt from just watching that mini excavator work. All it was was a small amount of work done continuously and without worrying much about the overall progress or the general expectations. It was work that was done not waiting for the perfect time to arrive when all conditions would be conducive for the work to be done. And it was work done knowing that the resources available at its disposal may not be all of what was needed to accomplish that task.
Most of these lessons may be well obvious and familiar to the point of being a cliche. But that doesn’t make them any less true.
Take going to the gym for instance. Working out is possibly the number one new year resolution ever made, and is also the first that gets thrown out of the window. We put targets and expectations on ourselves before we even get started. We wait for the right time to come in our lives to even get started – after this project is done, after this trip, when I finish my course, etc, etc – and then promptly convince ourselves that it was not a realistic goal considering all the ‘commitments’ we already had going. Or we go to the extent of making excuses that we don’t have what we ‘need’ to start working out on a regular basis – I need to get the right shoes, my gym doesn’t have these specific classes at these specific times, there aren’t enough treadmills in my gym, etc.
The key, as the mini excavator clearly demonstrated, is to do something and keep doing it without worrying about the overall progress or expectations. The effort to optimize every single aspect of our lives is not at all worth it. I am guilty of it myself. Instead, we need to focus our efforts on simply doing something – anything – and keep doing it. So next time you find yourself unable to get yourself to the gym, or unable to make the effort in any task you want, just ask yourself one simple question:
What would the mini excavator do?