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The Tambourine in the Back Seat (Your Smallest Problem)

For about six months, there’s been a toy tambourine in the backseat of my car. As a parent of two toddlers, that’s not particularly odd (and with two toddlers, I’m guessing it’s not the worst thing I’d find back there either). Since it’s not in the way, it doesn’t get moved when I’m buckling up the car seats. In fact, I never think about it.

Except when I make a wide turn. Every time I make a wide turn, I hear the unmistakable tap of the drumskin followed by an enthusiastic tremor of zills (Yes, that’s what they’re called! Your trivia for today.) and I suddenly remember The Tambourine in the Back Seat. It’s annoying, but not enough to do anything about it. I’m aware of it, but have amnesia until I’m confronted with it (and promptly forget about it again). It’s part of my daily experience.

Would my driving experience be significantly improved if I took care of it? Not really. I’d be a little less angry or frustrated when I hear the sound — inevitably, after dealing with traffic or some other unavoidable stressor that’s already ruffled my feathers — but solving this small, un-ignorable problem would lighten my mental load.

I’m sure there’s a tambourine in your back seat — a small, solvable problem that contributes to your stress but not enough to motivate action — like a standup meeting that always starts 10 minutes late, a repetitive task that sucks your time away or (even worse!) a calendar dysfunction that allows double-booking of conference rooms.

Let’s start solving our smallest problems to free up mental energy to tackle our biggest challenges. Schedule that standup to start 15 minutes later — there’s no rule that says meetings must start at a :00 or a :30! Find a way to automate that task — Google it, someone has done it. And get that calendar fixed! An organization can’t run like that.

Block off 30 minutes on your calendar today and tackle your smallest problem. If it takes less than 30 minutes to solve, spend the remaining time listing all of your small inconveniences. Today, I’ll pull that tambourine out of the backseat — tell me you’ll do the same!

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