Acting on a whim is usually a mistake

Acting on a whim is usually a mistake

Recently, I was thinking about a new way that we might be able to use a particular system at our company—a system for which we pay hundreds of dollars a month. I thought since we are paying for it, we should be able to get the most out of it and save a few bucks. Makes sense, right?  

So, I talked to one of the team about digging into the system to see if it could do what I thought maybe it could. He jumped right to it. We met a little while later about something unrelated, something important and on the critical path for our current plans. It struck me that this important and well-defined project was now slowed down by my “whim” project. I could not blame the person either. I had started this!


Before jumping into anything, the purpose must be clear, and the vision must be well defined.

-David Allen, Author, Getting Things Done


When we lead, we need to be very careful about what we do with our whims. David Allen’s rule above highlights where I went off track. I had a random idea for a positive action we could take, but I had not thought about it in the broader context: “Why are we doing this?”; “What is the goal?” If I had done that, I would have realized the case to pursue the whim was a weak one—not even close in importance to the current project underway. What I was proposing was a distraction.

The purpose of the project that was underway—the one I was slowing down—was to significantly improve user happiness with our software. The vision is a complete redesign and redo of the scheduling area of the system, the area that our clients use most. This literally affects hundreds of people across Canada daily. Improving this is a big deal. By contrast, saving a few bucks a month on a whim is not such a big deal. (And if the goal is to save a few bucks, there are probably better ways to do it.)

My realization was a reminder that I need to think things through fully before I use my authority in counterproductive ways. Great leaders make sure the right people are working on the most important things, things that are clearly defined with clear outcomes. They make it a personal habit and they insist that it is also an organizational habit.

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