4 Lessons To Get Out Of The Weeds

By March 15, 2017Management
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I remember the first time I heard the phrase “You need to get out of the weeds!”

I was at a start-up where I was literally buried in things that needed to be done…immediately. I was coming in early, staying late, working weekends, doing everything I could to get ahead and stay there. You could almost see the people lined up at my desk waiting for whatever it was they needed, tapping their foot and rolling their eyes. It was never that bad, of course, but I was hard on myself for not getting back to everyone on everything that I had promised in the time I had promised it. That’s when a co-worker of mine said, “You are buried. You can’t keep doing this. You need to get out of the weeds!”. They were right. I was so buried in the weeds that I was down in the roots, pondering what the root structure of the weeds were and how it would impact my ability to sneak away for lunch. Of course there are other ways to describe this situation, my personal favorite being that shit rolls downhill1. However, in more professional company, saying you are buried in the weeds is the acknowledgement that you aren’t doing anything to get out of your predicament. I think most people are familiar with this type of situation, whether at work or home.

How was I going to get out of the weeds? How was I going to lift my head up enough to see where I could offload, streamline, enhance, optimize, strategize, delegate, and deviate? Isn’t that the real question for a lot of people at work? I can’t say that on that particular day, the first time I heard the phrase, I had an epiphany and solved my own problem. It took time, pain and critical thinking to finally realize how I could help myself. It was very easy to keep doing what I was doing, barely staying afloat. As long as my team, my peers and my boss were pleased with my work, it wasn’t REALLY broken, was it?

Lesson 1: Learn how to ask for help

I have a lot of pride in my work, and to me, asking for help is like yelling at the top of a mountain that there’s a failure train coming to town, party of one. But the moment you ask for help, you are giving yourself permission to try something different. Your peers and leaders are often there to help if you just ask2.  Looking at your inability to get out of the weeds (stuck in tactics and execution), you have to visualize what it even looks like to be up out of the weeds (strategic thinking). Most of us are fortunate enough that when we ask our subordinates, peers and superiors for help, we often get it. I also found that by sharing my struggles, my coworkers were there with me, helping and teaching me all that I know today. Their engagement turned out to be the secret sauce to my success.

Lesson 2: Set aside time each day thinking about & planning for the future

I like to think about winning the lottery and how I would spend that money. That’s the kind of future thinking that’s fun. Yet most people avoid planning at work if they can. It’s so much easier to respond to emails immediately, go to meetings and put out fires. You could argue Project Management is a whole profession built around people who like to think about the future so that the rest of us don’t. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of a personal Project Manager or Executive Assistant to organize our time, thoughts and lives.

You need to set aside at least 15 minutes a day thinking about the future, preferably at the very beginning or end of the day. What are the projects due in the coming weeks and months? How can you help your team spend less time in meetings and more time doing actual work? Why does our process for the widget break down so often? Is there a way to prevent some of those fires vs. putting them out after the fact? These aren’t easy questions, but you can’t solve them if you aren’t thinking about them. So start thinking about the future and start writing down your ideas on how to fix them.

Lesson 3: Come up with clear tasks, priorities and actions

This one probably seems obvious. It isn’t. If I have to choose between reading and responding to emails or spending time breaking out that big project into the various tasks needed to complete it, which one do you think I’ll choose. Not all work is fun. I wish it was. Maybe it is for the people who are paid to travel and write about it? Maybe it is for a restaurant critic? I suspect there are parts of those jobs that aren’t fun too. All work has some negative aspect to it. For most of us, there’s always a percentage of the work you want to avoid even if it is the most important. At some point, you have to decide how you are going to spend your time. No one can force you. You have to force you. Take the work you need to get done (from projects and tasks assigned to you) and combine it with the ideas you wrote down about the future. That’s your list. Organize it, put some due dates on it, and start doing the work. It’s the only way this all works. Do. the. work.

Lesson 4: Realize that sometimes getting into the weeds is a good thing

You heard me. Sometimes, you NEED to get into the weeds. You can’t be afraid to get into the details and dig through the muck. Often times, you can’t solve the problem until you actually see the problem. It’s staying in the weeds, day in and day out, that people can get stuck in. Realistically, I operate 60% in/40% out on most days because I like doing the work as much as solving the work. Even if I didn’t like it though, you have to know the details to be effective. Once you know how to step back, it is easier to step back in because you have the tools to get out again.

Why it matters to us

In the end, these four lessons also apply to how I tackle the issues my clients bring to me.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and your employees are the secret sauce to solving the problem
  • Spend time thinking about and planning for the future
  • Do the work (clear tasks, priorities and actions = vision). This clarity will keep your employees engaged.
  • Getting into the details is as important as getting out of the way. Your employees will appreciate your commitment.

Finding the balance between tactics and strategy is what gets me excited about my work. My job is to not just be a thinker, but also a “do-er”. That’s why I’m so proud to be running Out of the Weeds Consulting, and that’s what my clients like about working with me.

Out of the Weeds Consulting’s mission is to provide immediate operational support, while getting you out of the daily minutiae to focus on what is important. Getting help should be easy! Contact us here for a free session to find out how we can help.

1 There’s a future post coming on some of my favorite and not-so-favorite phrases heard at work, and whether they are useful or not. Examples: “Let’s unpack that.”, “Do you have the bandwidth?”, and my favorite “You need to get out of the weeds!”.

2 If you are working in a place where you can’t ask for help, you’ve got much bigger problems than being stuck in the weeds. Perhaps you are in your predicament because of those around you (peers, subordinates, boss)? Have you been set up to succeed? Liz Ryan talks a lot about finding the right place to work. Here’s an article about 10 things only bad managers say.

Jim Ransier

Author Jim Ransier

I think Mary Poppins is an excellent role model. I'm restless, reasonable, optimistic, and always curious. I have 15+ years of creating and leading departments ranging from Operations to Creative Services, with a focus on start-ups and eCommerce. I started my own independent consulting services company so I could keep doing what I do best: help people develop and deliver on their vision. For me personally, the most interesting and fun people to work with are the ones who don't have it all figured out. I don't have it all figured out, I love traveling and problem solving in equal measure and not at the same time, and I think that "being happy" is unrealistic. I aim for being content as a more realistic goal, but who knows? I like that I don't know the answer. I'm restless and I'm always pushing forward. I try to be a good friend. I love animals, even ones that scare me.

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