Accuracy Is Everything

Wyatt Earp is remembered as being one of the most prominent figures in the taming of the  American West. Born in 1848 in Illinois, Earp had a frontier spirit at a young age. He tried, unsuccessfully, to run away from home several times in his youth, but was always caught and returned to his family. In 1870 he married, only to lose his wife to typhus a short time later. This tragedy fueled his desire for adventure even more and he began traveling throughout the West. He was known for being deadly accurate with his guns.

His most famous gunfight came in October 1881 at the O.K. Corral. It was there that he, along with Doc Holliday and others, challenged the wild cowboy culture that pervaded the West. Earp was the only one in the fight to sustain no injury. Again, his accuracy was his true weapon of success.

Asked numerous times about his amazing ability to win gunfights, Earp was often quoted as saying, "Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. You must learn to be slow in a hurry." Some suggest his actual word was "final" instead of "everything." Earp mastered the art of moving quickly, but with clear focus and direction. No doubt it saved his life countless times.

It’s easy, and often commendable to be busy (fast), but working on the right things (accuracy) is what is most important on hitting the target.

While the days of the Wild West are gone (except for maybe Las Vegas), Earp's quote profoundly resonates with me about the "execution" of my day. It's easy, and often commendable to be busy (fast), but working on the right things (accuracy) is what is most important on hitting the target. When the smoke and dust of the day's battle wanes, accomplishment of our highest priorities is what we should see, not just an accumulation of completed tasks. 

Additionally, his quote about being slow in a hurry is intriguing. It emphasizes that in the midst of moving quickly, you MUST have a clear plan of action AND outcome in mind. In Getting to It, Todd Musig and I discuss this need to stop, if only for a second, so you can more clearly identify what your most important next step should be. Just continuing to pick up one task, complete it, and then mindlessly engage in another is not the way to maintain the accuracy between what you say is important, and what you are actually doing.

Lastly, Earp's quote reinforces comments in my recent blog about the power of routines. It's a learned routine, or habit, that allows us to be "slow in a hurry" by moving through a systematic process almost mindlessly because it's become a part of our physical or mental reflexive response. If we have to evaluate, over-analyze, fret, or weigh out a choice of action, our opportunity is gone. And with it our hope of improved productivity.

One quick way to slow down and make a better choice of task to undertake is a quick question like:

  • What task, if completed, would give me the greatest sense of accomplishment tonight?
  • Which of my tasks could best be accomplished with the mental and physical energy I have right now?
  • What task would most benefit the productivity of someone else?
  • What's my "It" right now? (i.e. Important Thing)

Unless you are in law enforcement or the military you will probably not be engaged in a gun battle today. However, your ability to accurately align your daily actions with your highest priorities will make the difference in whether your goals and dreams move closer to reality...or are wounded by your willingness to just be busy.

Where do you need to slow down to be more accurate in your work today?