One of the best parts about blogging is meeting people I would never meet in real life. Often, this means psychopaths, who use the C word in my comments section. But the best times, the people I meet are like Tony Morgan. He is a pastor and chief strategy officer at NewSpring Church, based in South Carolina.
This is not the kind of guy I usually seek out. But I clicked to his blog, and when I realized that he mixes careers and church like I mix careers and sex, I was hooked.
My conversations with Tony are always about what matters; he approaches this topic from a church perspective, but honestly, careers would not keep me interested if I didn’t talk about it from that what-is-the-meaning-of-life perspective.
Tony combines his religion and his work in a social-media, grassroots, new millennium way. I think that on some level, we’d all like to do what he does: take something with deep meaning to us and add a layer of hipster, what’s-new-and-cool exploration.
In Tony’s new book, Killing Cockroaches, he tells the story of when he was a city manager, and he was in the middle of running a meeting, and he heard a woman down the hall scream about a cockroach. So he got up from the meeting and killed the cockroach. He talks about the dichotomy between wanting to make big-picture impact on the world and being drawn to the smaller, but louder, more immediate issues in front of us.
Really, all time management discussion is about this: How to know when to kill cockroaches and when not to. It’s about why we spend time doing small, stupid stuff that is crawling around in front of us instead of the stuff that makes life meaningful. Here is my discussion with Tony about the issue (which is also published in the book):
Tony: Tell me about an instance when you found yourself “killing cockroaches.”
Me: I kill cockroaches every day because it’s easier than doing the hard stuff on my to do list. I get up in the morning, and my to do list is organized with the most important stuff written on top and the other non-threatening stuff on the bottom, and I so frequently spend my time on the bottom, on the stuff that is small and squishable with just one stomp.
Tony: What are some of the strategies you’ve implemented to avoid it?
Me: I try to check with myself emotionally. If I’m not doing the hard stuff, I ask myself why. Sometimes I’m feeling anxious or I’m premenstrual or I just yelled at my kids and I think I’ve ruined their lives (for the millionth time) and I need to just let myself wander up and down my to-do list doing easy stuff. I need a break. But sometimes I look at what I’m doing and I say, “I have more strength right now. Don’t squander it.” And I go to the top of the list and do the hardest thing.
Sometimes I need a warm up. Like right now. Answering these questions is not the toughest thing I have to do today, but it’s harder than, say, answering the emails whee people tell me they loved my last post and I’m great. So I picked this task because I knew I’d feel accomplished at the end because it’s challenging but it’s not so challenging that I couldn’t face it. It is my bridge to the hard stuff today.
Tony: What have you learned from some of these experiences?
Me: If I spend too much time on the stuff that doesn’t matter, I feel like I did nothing. Killing one cockroach is okay because maybe you are helping someone else. After all, the woman in your office that day was screaming. And sometimes you are helping yourself. We all have times when we are silently screaming. But killing cockroaches all day feels dirty. (Yes, I know cockroaches are the cleanest insects around.) We feel dirty because it is actually squandering our passion and energy to spend a day doing nothing to promote our vision for what our work is about. The big picture, though, stuff that we keep an eye on is what makes us feel good about our work, I think.
Tony: How do you help your team avoid “killing cockroaches?”
Me: I hire great people so that they think as hard about this stuff as I do. It’s nearly impossible to really know what we are supposed to be doing with our days to make life matter. But I love being around people who are asking themselves this question every day.
A team of people like this means that everyone is trying to do some of the hard stuff everyday — without me telling them to. So then my job is to show people how I’m trying to do it every day. I get inspired by this set of questions right here. We can inspire each other with an honest struggle to have meaningful days. But only if we surround ourselves with people who are engaged in asking good questions. So thanks for asking good questions, Tony.