Time Management & The Crocodile Principle

Do you remember the movie Cool Hand Luke? It stars Paul Newman as an anti-hero who has been jailed for committing some felony; and is sentenced to a term of hard labour. The hard labour, which consists of building a road as I seem to remember, is occasionally interrupted by crocodiles. Well … I suppose they would actually be alligators because the movie is set in the American south. However, I think the Crocodile Principle sounds so much better than the Alligator Principle – don’t you?

Anyway, when this happens, the prisoners have to stop the day-job and summon one of the guards in order to deal with the interruption. Only when the crocodile has been dealt with, is it then possible to get back to the more productive business (for the penitentiary at least) of breaking those rocks.

Now I see this whole situation as something of a metaphor for our own situation in the workplace. Here we are doing our level best to be as productive as possible; and we keep getting interrupted by the equivalent of the crocodile. We also have to deal with those interruptions before we can get back to more productive activity.

So what is the answer? Well, I once remember a wise person once explaining to me,

“When you are up to your neck in crocodiles, it is hard to remember the first priority is to drain the swamp”.

That is a very true statement; and it also contains the seed of a really profound answer too.

In order to permanently sort out the crocodile situation in the movie, what is needed is to drain the swamp. Then the prisoners can go about their normal business much more effectively. But before the swamp can get drained, someone needs to first conceive of a situation in which there are no crocodiles – in other words, someone needs to have had the vision.

Once the vision is conceived, it then becomes possible to interleave some swamp-draining activity with the normal, every day rock-breaking activity. Over the course of time, the swap would get drained and the prisoners would then become far more productive.

And so it is with us in the use of our time. First we need to recognize the crocodiles. Then we need to figure out what needs to be done to get rid of them permanently. Finally, we need to interleave some of that activity with our normal every day activity. Ultimately we too can kiss-goodbye to the crocodiles and become far more productive.

To summarise: first conceive of your own vision. Spend time thinking about what the ideal situation looks like for you. Then work out the steps you need to take to make your vision a reality. Finally get those steps into your daily schedule and see them through to completion.

Don’t underestimate the power of this little tip. If you are just committed to taking one activity every day towards your goal of draining the swamp – what ever that represents for you – then eventually you will get the swamp drained; and you will reap the results.

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