Knowing Which Screw to Turn

Questions to find your focal point in work and life

Here's a story that resonates well with what I have in mind for Work Less. It's a story about working smart instead of working hard, focusing on the things that make the most impact, and finding what matters most at any given time.

A fable about a retired technician

Imagine a large manufacturing facility with hundreds of conveyor belts running non-stop—working as a system to produce whatever it manufactures. Suddenly, a malfunction happens. All the machines stop turning, the conveyor belts stop moving, and everyone stop working.

Bad news for the operation manager because they are losing tens of thousands of dollars every minute that the facility stops running. Worse, none of the technicians could track down the problem. They have looked up all the machines and gone through the manuals and SOPs, but nothing they do fixes the problem.

The manager has no choice but to call a retired technician who has worked in the facility for over 30 years. He tells the technician, "We'll pay anything, just come in and fix them."

After less than an hour, the technician arrives. He walks around for a few minutes, approaches one particular machine, and put an X on it. He then opens up the control panel of the machine. There is a bunch of tires going in all directions in the control panel.

The technician takes a dime from his pocket, turns a screw 1/4 of a turn, and asks the manager to restart all the machines. To the manager's surprise, everything starts working smoothly again. With his problem finally solved, the manager thanks the technician and asks for a bill for the work.

The bill arrives the next day—for $10,000! The operation manager is shocked and calls the technician. "There's no way it costs $10,000! You were here for less than 10 minutes and only turned a single screw. Anyone could do that." He tells the technician, "I need an itemized bill for it."

The technician doesn't say a word and resubmits a new bill. The manager takes a look at it and pays the technician without questions. Here is what the bill says:

$1 for turning the screw, $9,999 for knowing which screw to turn.

Driving with v.s. without a map

The moral of the story: Working hard is important, but in most cases, it's way more important to work hard on the right things. Making progress in your work, business, and life is essential, but you need to make sure you're making progress on what matters.

There's a difference between driving without a map, driving with a printed map, and driving with a GSP navigation app. Without a map, you will likely be lost. With a map, you will get to your destination, but it may take some time. With a GSP navigation app, you travel with confidence—knowing that you're on the right path every step of the way—and you get to your destination a lot quicker.

If you are already working hard, which I know you are, but still feeling stuck, maybe it's time to take a step back to figure out if you're also working smart. Just like the retired technician—he didn't get in and turn a bunch of screws right away. He surveyed the facility, found where the problem was, and marked a machine with an X.

Questions that help you find the right screw to turn

To get unstuck, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Am I focusing on the right things?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • What do I really want in the end?

Zooming out and thinking about the long-term is a great way to help you identify what's truly important.

The Pareto Principle, which most people know it as the 80/20 Rule, says that 80% of the results are produced by 20% of the activities. Do you know what the 20% for your work and life are? And more importantly, before you start, what are the results you want to see? If not, now is a good time to figure them out.

By the way, you can use these questions on anything you want more clarity on. Not just in terms of productivity, work, business, and money. You can use them to find out the key focal point to improve your health, relationships, or habits in general.

Another great way is to zoom in—instead of opening yourself up to all kinds of distractions—narrow your views and thoughts down to today, now, this very moment. Ask yourself:

  • What outcomes do I want to see today?
  • What matters most right now?
  • What's the one thing I can do now to make everything else easier? (One of my favorites)

These questions help you find the right screw to turn. It may be to set up a system for your business, put the right habits and routines in place, or simply sit down and get what you need to do now, done.

Footnotes

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