Counting Pennies

“When you count your pennies, your dollars will take care of themselves.” – Colleague

Maybe it’s my occasional desire to relive the speech and debate competition from high school. Maybe it’s my personality that tends to question everything. Maybe it’s my disdain for authority and being told how to think. Whatever it is or was, something about this statement never sat well with me since I first heard it a few weeks ago.

Ironically enough, it came more as a praise than as advice. That made me even more uncomfortable. I have a spiteful side that always tends to question what I really think when I find myself agreeing with common thought.

As I began to chew on this statement, thoughts poured into my head from everything I had learned since I began working at a “real job” after college. Traditionally speaking, the statement sounds pretty good. When you take the time to take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves.

Note: This is not to be confused with Jesus saying “He who is faithful in little will be given much” or with Benjamin Franklin’s “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Those are COMPLETELY different.  

I went back to the years where my sister and I would sit at the table and count hundreds of pennies for my grandfather’s beeper store. He paid us a whopping $.50 for every 50 pennies we counted out. It wasn’t until later that we realized just how gypped we were in this deal. We spent our time counting the pennies so that he could keep track of the dollars.

My next thought was this: Who in their right mind wants to spend their time counting pennies instead of dollars??? That’s for people looking for something to do. That’s for people who focus on the 80% of input that only produce 20% of the output. That’s for people who find ways to be productive and avoid any value creation whatsoever. Those people can answer phone calls and return emails all day and then leave without any real contribution to the business.

I had a former boss tell me that he could take a bum off the street and teach him to do what I did. Initially, that didn’t make me feel too great. But the point was that daily tasks (counting pennies) is something that anyone can do. Those who truly want to be successful have a nose for the dollars. They let everyone else worry about the pennies. After all, there are plenty of people to do that. The visionaries are those who see the big picture.

What’s the takeaway? What did I learn from this? Focus on the things that matter. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter how many points your fantasy team scores if your family is waiting to spend time with you. Focus on the 20% of input that produces 80% of the output. That’s where the value lies.

That means something different for everyone. For me it means taking the time to write when I could be watching tv or mindlessly checking social media. Make sure you consider the opportunity cost of what you do. Is responding to that email that could really wait until tomorrow really worth the time that you could be spending doing something creative and contributive to the company?

Bottom line: Figure out what’s important, I mean really important. Then do that. The rest is just pennies.

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