How do you fight the whirlwind?

“So, why aren’t people buying? What, specifically, are you hearing from potential customers?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They say, ‘Oh yeah, sign me up!’ Or ‘I have $50 in presale credit, don’t I?’ But they don’t take action,” Andy said.

“Ok, so you have people who have expressed interest but aren’t following through?”

“Exactly,” he replied.

It was a critical conversation. Andy (not his real name), a client, had been trying for the past few months to crack a simple, yet frustrating problem in his business: People aren’t buying consistently. 

Andy’s business connects customers and businesses to their local food, via bike delivery. His mission is to change culture by making it easy for communities to support their local producers while empowering producers to do what they do best.

The only problem? You can’t change culture with your product if no one is buying it.

“You know what that sounds like to me?” I continued.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, it but sounds like your customers aren’t taking action because the weekly order is getting lost in life’s flurry of activity.They’re clearly interested, but not buying every week. Its sounds like they’re falling prey to the whirlwind.”

Andy leaned in, focusing on what I was saying.

In The Four Disciplines of Execution they call the urgent activity required to keep things running the whirlwind. In a business or a job, we all know the whirlwind. It shows up as an endless stream of emails and follow-ups and to-dos. But we each have a personal whirlwind—the activities that are required to keep our lives running: Washing dishes, getting groceries, paying bills, cooking, cleaning, picking up dog poop. That’s why, I think, so many food-delivery services opt you in for every week, then you have to opt yourself out, rather than the other way around,” I continued.

 via Unsplash @ Pixabay

via Unsplash @ Pixabay

No matter what you want to change—in your life, career, business, or at home—the whirlwind is your private enemy number one. It will slowly, ruthlessly eat your new initiative alive.

Tending to the whirlwind feels safe—it’s what you know. But when you only focus on controlling it, you’re no longer playing to win. You’re playing not to lose. And that is a game no one wants to play.

In this way, the whirlwind is paradoxical. We need it, because it keeps the lights on, but it will paralyze us if we’re not careful. It’s a critical thing, but it’s not the only thing.

When confronted with the whirlwind, most people fight to the death. Always trying to get caught up. Always trying to get the to-do list empty zero. Always chipping away in a cloud of activity. Unfortunately, it never goes away. The chaotic, swirling flux never ends. It’s like fist-fighting a sandstorm.

How do you fight the whirlwind?

If you’re playing this game, in a fight to the death, stop. (It will end only when you’re in heaven with your hamster Squiggles.) Instead, I suggest playing the game differently, like David did against Goliath.

Declare the whirlwind your private enemy number one, and begin to fight it in a smarter way. Work on it, rather than in it. Do your best to lessen any unnecessary whirlwind…

  • Batch Tasks – Check email in chunks, cook all your meals for the week in one session, batch meetings, run errands together, re-wear clothes more than once, pack the dishwasher until it’s full
  • Automate – Bills, invoicing, dates with your significant other (yes, Jenna and I have a standing “date night” every Wednesday)
  • Delegate – Enough said.
  • Rethink Your Contribution – Often, too much whirlwind is due to a lack of clarity on what your greatest contribution is, and what your purpose is here on earth. Ask yourself, “What will do the greatest good?” Then, read Essentialism.

Once you’ve cleared up some time, dedicate it towards something that matters. The authors of The Four Disciplines suggest you use the 20% of work time not used up in the whirlwind.

Pick one thing that, if you learned it or changed it, would make an incredible difference in your business, career, or life. Block out time for it, and honor it like you would tea with the Dalai Lama. Get accountability, whether from a spouse, friend, coach, or mentor. Then enjoy life. It’s pretty beautiful.