I was reminded recently of an old proverb that is very applicable to this time of year … “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
In ancient Rome, Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions. Because the beginning of the year is a time for reflection, as well as planning, the month of January is named after him. Janus was often depicted with two faces … one looking back on the past, the other looking forward to the future.
As we continually reflect on our yesterdays, and look forward to our tomorrows, let’s be careful to make sure our attention is appropriately divided between the two. As a general anecdote, the next time we are in our vehicles, I suggest we pay close attention to how big our windshield is compared to our rear-view mirror. There is a valuable lesson found in this relationship. I took the liberty of measuring mine. My windshield is 1728in², 96 times bigger than my 18in² rear-view mirror. That ratio may suggest I should spend 96 times the amount of time looking forward than I do glancing back. Thus, if I were to take an 8-hour drive (480 minutes), I should spend 475 of those minutes looking forward, and a combined total of just 5 minutes taking quick looks in the mirror. I shudder to think of the numerous wrecks that would occur if I tried it the other way around.
Our day-to-day business practices are no different. Looking forward, being proactive, making plans, and forecasting should absolutely dominate 475 minutes of a 480 minute business day. That could leave very little availability in our schedule for reflection, and being reactive. Perhaps only 5 minutes? And that’s OK. We can learn plenty from that valuable “rear-view mirror” time. However, it’s our daily “windshield” time that reveals the congestion in front of us, unveils dangerous potholes in the road, and ultimately determines our direction.
Consider the following two, admittedly oversimplified, examples:
- Instead of spending valuable time today reviewing yesterday’s labor costs (rear-view mirror), try focusing your efforts more on influencing tomorrow’s labor costs (windshield).
- Use your business windshield to govern this month’s profit margin, as opposed to staring at the rear-view mirror dissecting last month’s profit margin.
If you want to avoid a corporate wreck, then don’t drive your business relying on your rear-view mirror.
Let us all look forward to a year sprinkled with just a little “rear-view mirror” time, and dominated by a lot of “windshield time”.
With only a quick glance into my yesterday, what can I do today that will have the biggest impact on my tomorrow?
R. Dru Laws is Vice President of Rotational Molding at Seljan Company, the Chair of the ARM Education Committee, and a member of the ARM Board of Directors.
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