Focus on the alligator closest to the boat

“Focus on the alligator closest to the boat.”

We have a ton of things going on, and COVID added many more that were not planned, accounted, or resourced for. New things are coming in almost on a daily basis. This can be scary, even daunting at times, but all of it is important – what each of us does has a tremendous impact on the future of so many people!

Having that said, not everything needs to be done right now, and some things can wait just a few days. Being clear about that and giving yourself the freedom to focus on the one thing that’s most important right now is critical to keep your sanity in times of high pressure. Understand your project priorities, their true (not perceived) criticality, and when they need to be done. Then decide what you need to do right now.

A good mental model for this was given to me by a co-worker a few years ago. He was a manager in an Amazon warehouse. That’s about the craziest it can get: every day is high pressure, and completely unplanned. Equipment breaks, workers get sick, a new deal takes off unexpectedly, shipments come in late – you name it. They don’t even keep their calendar updated because days are unpredictable by default. Everything is ad-hoc and focused on what’s most important right now – well to be clear, there is a lot of strategic planning going on, but day to day operations is influenced by many unpredictable events.

I asked him how he can make progress and stay sane in such an environment, and he told me that it’s actually very easy: “You focus only on the alligator next to the boat.”

Find your alligator that’s next to the boat right now. Keep a mental map of where the others are as some might be approaching while others drift away. Then deal with the one next to the boat!


Did you like this post? Want to read more?

Check out our book for more thoughts and a week-by-week guide to make strategic changes to improve your health, career, and life purpose:

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk ISBN 9781077278929

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