Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.
If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.
By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.
If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
In last week’s post we looked at Naval Admiral Willam H. McRaven’s opening comments in his University of Texas Commencement Address. The call to action was “What starts here changes the world.”
That’s a daunting challenge, and McRaven acknowledges that in his remarks. But he doesn’t disappoint the graduates of University of Texas. He gives them ten lessons he learned in the SEALS that helped him accomplish these goals.
In this series on the LION’s Den we will explore how each simple lesson can be transformed from the military world, to the business world.
Find Your Bed Making Task
So you’re ready to enact change in your organization. You’ve got a huge challenge ahead of you, and not near enough of the time, talent, and budget you’d really hope to have to accomplish your goal.
Find one task, that if accomplished and executed repeatedly will begin to chip away at your problem. Set this up as a routine, so that if nothing else, this one thing gets done.
I’ll take an example from a GSC client. This client manufactures modular homes. It’s an incredibly complex process, that all happens within only 2 short weeks from start to finish. When more than one home is on the line as many as 40 people are working and everything from building floors to hanging siding has to happen. The Production Manager was tasked with speeding up the line and providing an accurate report on the production status on each house.
Speeding up the line is a longer term goal, that will take some understanding of the current bottlenecks. But every day the Production Manager goes into PieMatrix, a business process tool integrated with GSC’s help. In PieMatrix he updates the progress each home is making. It’s as simple as clicking a checkbox and adding a few notes.
This simple activity allows him, and his management, to see the progress he’s making each day. He feels a sense of pride to see how much got done in one day. Management is happy because they can also see the progress.
It’s a small step, but each day the Production Manager does this he’s able to log risks, and he will begin to see the patterns that will help him accomplish his larger goal. The problem wasn’t fixed Day 1, but with a few simple clicks every day, he gets closer and closer.
Mundane But Meaningful
Whatever task you choose, make sure that it is meaningful. On the surface making your bed seems to not have any meaning. What good is it to simply tuck in a few sheets.
However, if you were a Navy SEAL coming in after a hard day of training to a freshly made bed would be a welcoming comfort. It also provides simple reward. If you make your bed well you avoid doing extra pushups. The tidy bed welcomes the soldier’s aching body, and makes sure that he can rest well with what little time he has.
When thinking through what task you perform each day, think about what task, while mundane, also drives value. Is it updating your sales forecast? Is it submitting your timesheet? Is it updating defect notes? Is there a report that you run daily?
Choose something that not only gives you a sense of accomplishment, but your management, your team, your customer, or your company can use and see value in.
Why did the Navy pick bed making? It’s the first thing you do in the morning, and the last thing you see at night when your day is over. This use of “bookending” the soldiers’ day helps with the sense of completion and accomplishment. “What I completed this morning, I was able to find value in this evening.”
When you identify your task, try to find a way to bookend it. It doesn’t have to be daily, as the Navy SEALS do, but weekly. How did you start and how did you finish? What value was driven from reviewing the beginning state?
Initially this will feel redundant, but over time you will also feel a sense of accomplishment. You will also begin to be more aware of what things help and hurt your progress. This simple act of slowing down to pay attention to the details will allow you to make improvements, thus working on the larger goal on your plate.
Make Your Bed With Pride
The Navy SEALS don’t just have to make their bed. They have to make it to perfection, each and every time.
It’s not enough to get the task done. The goal is to do it well. What sense of accomplishment can be gained from something that is thrown together sloppily?
It is tempting to treat this as just another checklist item. “If I can just knock this one thing out quickly I will feel better and I can move on to the next thing in my busy day.” If that is your attitude you will miss the point of the exercise, to add value.
When you are tempted to check the box, remember your goal. Take pride in this small action that is helping you in some small way to reach that goal. Remember, “What starts here changes the world.”