Cutting Corners

As a child, I remember my father telling me to not cut corners. Most likely I was trying to do an assigned task in the fastest way possible while not considering the quality of my work. A great example is when I used to mow our yard. My desire was to finish as quickly as possible so I could spend time with my friends. I remember mowing as fast as I could run skipping areas of the lawn. I also tried to speed things up by not edging the entire yard. While in the short term I thought of myself as a pretty smart guy, eventually my father helped me paint another picture. After reviewing my handiwork in the yard, he would make me return home and finish the job. Ultimately my yard redo took much more time than if I had done it correctly in the first place.

Eventually I came to understand and appreciate a job well done and the tremendous value seen in doing things right the first time. That being said, there are till times I try to cut corners. Last week I was on the dock at our lake house looking at photos of a new audio system I want to buy for our boat. I became excited about a certain product and wanted to rush over to show my wife. She was sitting on the main part of the dock and I was on the pier leading to shore. In order to reach her, I had to make a 90 degree turn at the end of the pier. In my rush to show her the information, I decided to “cut the corner” of the dock to speed up my trip. I mean really, who wants to make a 90 degree turn when you can take a 45 degree shortcut. This shortcut went over water and required me to take a make a big stride. I was completely distracted reading the audio specification on my phone. My stride was much too short and I fell into the lake. This is one of those times I wished I was alone. My wife, daughter and her friend saw me fall into the lake. I managed to hit a few body parts on the dock on my journey to the water. Somehow my phone ended up on the dock. My shoes, glasses and keys were all in the lake. I vividly remember being under the water wondering how I arrived at this location. I then reflected on how embarrassed I would be when I surfaced and climbed out of the water. I considered staying under the water for a while to delay the unwanted attention I was sure to receive. Eventually I surfaced to find my family standing on the dock looking down at me with some genuine concern. I assured my relatives of my safety and this event moved from mild concern to a Reed family legend.

There are consequences to cutting corners. We logically understand this concept. So why do we continue to cut corners? First, we are time pressed. Whether real or imaged we seem to always be crunched for time. While an entire article or book could be dedicated to the topic of time management, I will suggest this statement. We are responsible for where we spend our time and we decide how to spend it. Second, we believe there is a new way to complete a task. There is some truth to this statement. Many times, there are better ways to do certain tasks and we should always be open to suggestions. In the end, no matter how we accomplish a task, we must make sure it is complete and done correctly. You can think of this concept as our personal quality control. Third, we are unable to effectively manage our task list. This point boils down to; we can’t say no. Perhaps we are a people pleaser or insecure about our relationships. With this approach, there is a tendency to say yes to every request despite an inability to deliver due to time constraints or a lack of expertise.

It is better to do a few tasks well rather than many poorly. We need to learn to say no to tasks in a constructive manner. We also need to better understand the objective of each task so we can have a full understanding of what it means to do a good job. This idea gets back to that concept of personal quality control.

These ideas apply well to a church or volunteer environment where we better control what tasks we take on. In the work environment, there are more challenges because we don’t get to choose assignments. The concept can still be applied to our vocation by using the technique to set priorities. During my career, there were certain bosses I had whose requests I would ignore until they asked me 2 or 3 times. This is because most assignments were forgotten or were so dynamic they became irrelevant in a matter of hours. This points to another profound topic of learning how your boss operates.

In conclusion, don’t end up in the water with banged up body parts, missing glasses and keys wondering what happened. Most of the time the short cut is not worth it. The other lesson learned here is, stay focused on the immediate, like where you are walking. Everything else can wait, at least for a while.

Make the most of this day!

Update: I ended up having knee surgery as a result of this mishap. Torn meniscus and a loose screw from a previous surgery. Yes, I had a loose screw (Lisa confirmed the diagnosis). 😊

Don’t take shortcuts!

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