Simple Problem Solving: “Keep the Cow Out of the Ditch”

Photo by Cellar Door Films ~ WANA Commons

Photo by Cellar Door Films ~ WANA Commons

Harvey Mackay is one of my favorite columnists because he always makes me think about multiple topics. For example, I might go to him for a business lesson and come away with a family or writing lesson.

Case in point: one of my co-workers sent me Mackay’s last column, Mastering the Art of Managing.

It’s got some great bullet points on managing a team at the bottom of the post and made for a good team-building lesson.

However, this is NaNoWriMo month. That means 300K+ novelists around the world are balancing more roles than usual: work, writing, family, holidays, and (if you’re me) family reunions and home healthcare nurse to a sick toddler.

That’s a lot of balls in the air.

The part that grabbed my attention (important part in blue):

…Anne Mulcahy, former Chairman and CEO of Xerox, was asked by Fortune Magazine what was the best advice she had ever received in business.  She said it occurred at a breakfast meeting in Dallas, to which she had invited a group of business leaders.

One of them, a plainspoken, self-made, streetwise guy, came up to Mulcahy and said:

When everything gets really complicated and you  feel overwhelmed, think about it this way.  You gotta do three things.  First, get the cow out of the ditch.  Second, find out how the cow got into the ditch.  Third, make sure you do whatever it takes so the cow doesn’t go into the ditch again.”

Talk about a great epiphany as we go into the holidays! I’ve got big ‘ol bovines cluttering up my life all over the place!! (i.e. Crap I’ve been wasting my time on that I can put off until next year, or better yet, just get off my plate forever.)

Those bovines are freezing my productivity with more worrying than doing.

But which cow is the biggest problem? The cow in the ditch needs to take first priority, right?

I realized as I thought about the post that I see ALL of my cows in the ditch. I have a hard time figuring out which one is the most important cow. (Yes, it made me laugh to write that.) I’ve realized I often try to put out all my fires at the same time and get nothing more than frustration for my efforts.

As Hubby said, “Don’t try to feed the cows in the barn while you’ve got a cow in the ditch.”

To turn that lesson around I had the following talk with myself:
“What do you HAVE to do this month? Start there and prioritize outward. What about doing one ‘have to’ task each day?”

I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

What is the biggest cow in your personal ditch? Is it an internal problem or an external one? What problem solving tips do you have to share? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
This entry was posted in Inspiration, NaNoWriMo and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Simple Problem Solving: “Keep the Cow Out of the Ditch”

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Jenny, I love seeing how you think, because it’s so different than how I think! See, my cows are lined up in a row, cataloged, and their names on an excel spreadsheet with formulas.

    BUT – I can’t think outside the box for crap. I’ve never in my life had a uniquely new idea. Ever.

    See? No one gets it all! Celebrate what you DID get, and work on the rest…it’s all any of us can do.

    Now, go get that damned cow!


  2. No contest. Easy answer because it’s The Big One under my control: GOLDEN HEART. And, that’s a cow turned upside down in a water trough. [Yeah. I’m a farm girl. I’ve witnessed it, and helped with right-side upping those four hooves. It happened to a horse, but they’re both four-legged critters.] That one is time-sensitive and my dream critter will die if I don’t stay F-O-C-U-S-E-D.

    [Which is why I have to tell nay-sayers and road-blockers to F.O.C.U.S. ;-)]

    I’ve spent innumerable hours fretting about hay-munching cows–many under my control and reasonably easy to accomplish. There is no reason I don’t take one cow per day and yank on its tail to pull it from the ditch. Or, ignore them until I have the clumsy bovine out of the water trough. Daily progress will dictate which I choose.

    The other biggie? Out of my control. We finally have a buyer for our house. The new house will be ready for move in at the end of this month, but they’re holding it for us through December/January. Said buyer is currently en route to South America. The family (who toured the house with Mom via Skype) arrive in December. One of those two bovines will likely push numbers. The other is on its own to swim across the pond from England.

    Off to write! Toodles, Jenny! Have a wonderful, productive day.


  3. K.B. Owen says:

    Oh, Jenny, I hear ya, hon. I like your cow analogy a lot (and perfect for more Cowbell!). I like the metaphor of rocks in a container. The big ones first, then the little ones, ’cause the big ones would never fit in afterward. If you start big and get smaller, there’s almost always room left in the jar. Here’s a fab narrative of that:

    It’s a lesson I need to constantly remind myself of, because I am QUEEN of letting little things – errands, household tasks, basic minutiae – run my day.

    Okay, I’m off to take care of some of the big stuff!


  4. amyskennedy says:

    Just what I needed to read! I think I may have two farms and several ditches…

    Seriously though, this helps me focus on priorities. Sometimes I don’t bother with the “why” the cow went in the ditch, but of course, I have to–for the sake of future cows. Thanks Jenny.


  5. Sarah says:

    I love the analogy and plan to keep it in my brain for future use. My cow in the ditch is “self care”, and that big mama so easily wanders away when I am focused on all the other critters. I think we’re halfway up the ditch now, but keeping her from wandering away and back into the ditch will be the next hardest part.


  6. My biggest cow is the month long blogging challenge. LOL I had a pretty good handle on it early in the month, but finding it hard when I’m almost done. Will definitely get the cow out and then probably won’t do it again! LOL (Though I have learned a lot.)


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      This is right about the time of the month that all month-long challenges give us the pinch. Lord knows I’m hearing plenty of NaNo moaning right now. I love the April A-Z challenge, but it’s a bitch-kitty every year when I do it.


      • LOL! Yeah, I think that a blog every day doesn’t actually work for my style of blogging. I was hoping it would build traffic, but I think it might be dispersing it or diluting it? At this point, doing it because I’m stubborn. LOL


  7. tomwisk says:

    Makes great sense. Nuf said.


  8. Julie Glover says:

    I have relied on the 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People more times than I can count: Begin with the end in mind. First things first. Sharpen the saw. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Whenever life feels off-kilter, I tend to pull out the one that applies and mull it over a while.

    OR I pour a glass of wine, find a good book and curl up to read, and let everything stew ’til tomorrow. 😉


  9. filbio says:

    I seem to push the cow into the ditch more times than I care for. Even when I still have not pulled my other cow out of it. My ditch is filled with cows. But I have none in my barn. Does this make any sense?

    This is actually good advice. Wish I could adhere to it.


  10. S.J. Maylee says:

    Which is the most important cow? You’ve got me thinking. 🙂 Recently, I was reminded of a way to organize the to-do list by sorting them into groups: A, B, C or high/medium/low priority. My first thought was to put everything in A, but they can’t all be the most important cow. Thanks for this visual, Jenny.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I am one to try to put it all in the A group too, and it just frustrates me. I’m having to learn to embrace my B and C groups, which the C groups likely to go out the ‘NEVER door.’


  11. Amy Shojai says:

    Hey, I got cows in the ditch with beans and chili peppers and tomato…yep, my ditch these days is ghoulash but not nearly as tasty. *s* But I do something similar by using a monthly and weekly “to-do” list. Feels SO DANG GOOD to cross stuff off that list… so now I get the cows out first, and worry about the tomato sauce later.


  12. Marcia says:

    My cow in the ditch is hitting 50k during NaNo. My other cows are on the road watching me pull this one out. Good luck with your cows Jenny. That was down to earth, straightforward advice from that man. Sometimes it’s the simple answers that escape when we’re bogged down.


  13. Love this Jenny! Hope things even out soon but give yourself a pat on the back because I bet you’re doing far better than you think 😉 Now, get that cow outta the ditch! (And I’ll do the same 🙂 )


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