Duckie Advice

One of the most critical concepts of personal accomplishment was promoted brilliantly by a dynamic group of self-development experts. They were introduced to the public way back in 1969 and made innumerable television appearances, eventually being broadcast in more than 140 countries. In November 2013, The New Yorker magazine featured some of their team on its cover. Of course I’m talking about the Sesame Street Muppets, specifically Ernie and Mr. Hoots.

Ernie was the proud owner of a toy duck. He expressed his love for it in a song that climbed to number 16 on the Billboard charts in July 1970, It contained poignant lyrics such as “Rubber Duckie, you’re the one. You make bath time lots of fun.” He loved having what he called his “little fella who’s cute and yella” with him at all times.

But there was a problem. Ernie also had a huge goal: he wanted to make beautiful saxophone music. As hard as he tried, however, the toy in his hand always got in the way. That’s when he went to Mr. Hoots for advice. The wise and musically-savvy Muppet owl told Ernie, “You gotta put down the duckie if you want to play the saxophone.”

Yes, Ernie, it’s impossible to do two things at once. The same goes for you and for me. Numerous surveys have confirmed that people who focus on one thing at a time are far more effective than those who think they can multi-task.

This applies on all levels. As great as it is to think big, we have to limit ourselves to a reasonable set of objectives. A person might not be able to write a novel, learn a language, plan a major vacation, train for a marathon, and get an online degree simultaneously. And when evening rolls around, you can’t watch TV plus read classic literature at the same time.

The solution isn’t easy, but it’s simple. Choose. What is your goal? Is there something in life you’ll have to give up in order to achieve it? Is the goal important enough to make that sacrifice?

After some protests, Ernie took Mr. Hoots’ words to heart. He temporarily set the duck aside, discovered his talent for playing the sax, and had a lot of fun.

As an ancient proverb says, “He who chases two rabbits catches none.” Or as a famous self-development guru told his friend, “You gotta put down the duckie if you want to play the saxophone.”

(For the whole story, see this link: Put Down The Duckie.)

7 comments on “Duckie AdviceAdd yours →

  1. Hi Steve, I agree 100% with your “Put down the Duck” instructions! That said, probably much like you may have at your business, in my position as chief operating officer at my bank, I may have as many as 5-10 “irons (or more) in the fire” at any one time. They are all jockeying for my attention, from 35 employees, 3 executive officers and gawd knows how many vendors.

    While I would LOVE to be able to have everyone take a number like at the Publix deli and I proceed calmly on each task one at a time until completed, life does not work like that in my banking world! I usually allocate time in “spurts”, based upon severity of the issue, if it is a request for Mr. Fales or Joe Schmo and complexity of the matter.

    Is this the optimum way to process my daily work, I honestly do not know but someone much smarter than I once said, “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget the objective was to drain the swamp!” (grin) Take care, Joe D.

  2. Steve Fales says:

    Thanks for the perspective, Joe. You bring up a great point. It’s much easier to put down the duckie on Sesame Street than it is in real life. But I keep trying – and I know you do too. Looking forward to a saxophone duet together. – Steve Fales

  3. I’d have to put down a lot of duckies in order to focus on one thing, but I do like your message about prioritizing. I need to learn that.

  4. Theo Etzel says:

    Steve, I have just begun to preach this message in my office. Obviously, the intent is not to focus solely on one issue or challenge and expect to see it through in one step or not touch another pressing issue until the first if fully complete. We would fail miserably with that model; and employees who approach their position that way don’t make it here either.
    The message is that while we are engaged with someone or something we should give full attention to that person or thing until there is a stopping or pausing point. Then, when we are waiting for another domino to fall with that issue that is out of our hands, we can turn our attention to the next priority item…and repeat the process.
    There are a lot of distractions in our world today, as connected as we are. Our family, our employees, and our customers deserve our best. And our best is only available when it is in the form of our whole self at the time it is required. I will continue to work on this in my own life as well as trumpet it to others. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Steve Fales says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the excellent comments.

    Myra brings up a good point about the need to prioritize. It reminds me of the great Peter Drucker’s statement that the two most critical skills he looked for in executives were: 1) The ability to think; 2) To tackle tasks in the order of their importance.

    I think Theo nailed the “put down the duckie” concept in his comment. True, we can’t limit our to do list to one item at a time. But in order to be productive, we have to give our full selves to the task at hand, again (as Myra said) in priority order.

    I am fortunate to know such insightful individuals.

    Steve Fales

  6. Elizabeth Mcaughlin says:

    Hi Steve: This one really hit home! I am working on six projects, and the weeks fly b without getting the results I need. Thank you, thank you, I shall “put down the duckie,” and concentrate on playing the saxophone! Peter Drucker’s reminder to “tackle tasks in their order of importance” is a great help. Please keep your messages coming.

  7. John Dawson says:

    I agree it is easier said than done, but if you approach every day focused on tackling the item of most importance/significance, you are on the right path. Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing, and Rory Vaden’s Procrastinate on Purpose have a lot of good applications and further insight on this.
    I am enjoying the articles Steve! – John

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