Fruitcakes and lines in the sand

 Dec 10, 2014

I know I’m biased but my mum makes a fantastic Christmas cake; really moist, full of fruit and enough rum to sink a pirate-ship. Every year she makes eight, gives one to each of her kids and keeps four for herself to entice us for afternoon teas long after ours have finished. It’s a mammoth exercise but she organises herself well in advance. But these are not the fruitcakes of Christmas that I wanted to talk about. This period is not called the ‘silly season’ for nothing. There are lots of social gatherings to attend and in the Southern Hemisphere, at least, the heat brings out some ‘questionable’ behaviour. North or south, one of those ‘questionable’ behaviours is our want to fit everything in before the end of the year. Suddenly, we have to meet up with people we haven’t seen in ages to have a Christmas drink. We have various parties to attend, we have to meet job deadlines, and we have to do Christmas food and present shopping, vying against thousands doing the same. Most get stressed out to the max, emotionally and financially, and then getting together with the family to celebrate the day can push people to the brink. What creates this fruitcake behaviour? Of course, marketing does, but beyond that, a very fundamental reason is the primary driver; it is simply an arbitrary line in the sand and the meaning we give to it. In fact, it’s two lines in the sand a week apart: Christmas and end of year. And that is the real purpose behind this blog post. If we examine this behaviour through the lens of Stephen Covey’s ‘Urgent-Important’ matrix, it definitely lies in the area of Quadrants 1, 3 and 4. There is not much Quadrant 2 going on.

Fruitcakes and lines in the sand

Even though this has been around for a while, whenever I explain this matrix in Effective Time Management and Management and Leadership programs, many of the participants get huge “a-has” that they are too busy putting out fires rather than preventing them occurring in the first place. For them, this is not just around Christmas; it happens throughout the year. Lines in the sand are very important because they galvanise us into action but if we do not spend enough time in Quadrant 2 preparing and creating systems we will end up as ‘fruitcakes’; going frantic by constantly chasing our tails. Covey said if we can take the time we spend in Quadrants 3 and 4, and invest in Quadrant 2, we will eventually reap dividends in Quadrant 1. Pareto, who came up with the 80/20 rule, suggests that the Quadrant 2 investment should be at least 20%. If you’re more of a sponge cake rather than a fruitcake, as I am sure all our readers would prefer to be, then I hope you can soak this up and have a stress-free and happy festive season.

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About the Author:

Tim Higgs  

Tim has been involved in the corporate training industry for over 15 years; seven of these have been as the Portfolio Manager and Senior Facilitator at New Horizons. Tim holds a Graduate Diploma (Psych/Couns), a masters' degree in Cultural Psychology and a bachelor's degree in Business, giving him a unique theoretical backdrop for understanding human performance in the workplace. This complements his actual experience of working within the corporate sector in sales and management positions and owning and running a small business. Having worked with individuals and groups in both clinical and business settings, Tim has a fantastic insight into human behaviour, motivation and the issue of human change.

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