The Just Once Problem

We’re slammed. Let’s skip this Friday’s pipeline review.

It’s been a tough day; let’s just do fast food.

I skipped the research this time, we already know this customer.

I call it the just once problem. It’s when you deviate from your planned process and good intentions because of circumstances in the moment. In theory, just once doesn’t kill you. In practice, just once quickly becomes habit.

Here are three examples:

Only half a rah

One of our clients started doing Monday morning huddles to give their team a quick jumpstart on the week. They recapped the big jobs, addressed immediate problems, and gave the team a rah-rah, 15 minutes and out.

But then some people started missing the huddles. It was just this once; they were tied up with a pressing issue. Others noticed. Soon, it became acceptable to miss a huddle. A few exceptions became a lot of exceptions. The good habit faded.

The sugar rush

When my kids were younger teachers often used candy for “reward.” It drove me crazy. My kids were good students, they weren’t athletic and they LOVED candy. By middle school they were getting six pieces of candy a day.

I understand why people love to give kids candy; the giver gets a quick hit of happiness and gratitude. But the collective just once’s add up and you as a parent find yourself being the candy police.

Just one night

When my youngest was in high school, I was contemplating attending a meeting off the coast of Africa. It would put me out for over a week. I was traveling a good bit and this meeting was optional. I didn’t want to be away from my daughter more. The organizer said, “A week away isn’t going to kill her.”

He was right; one week would not make a big difference. But a week here, added to a week there, and I’ve missed her last few years at home.

I elected to pass. Nothing amazing happened during my week home, but when I looked at my calendar, I saw myself as someone who made parenting a priority.

To be clear, I am not a perfectly disciplined person, at work or at home. I’ve skipped the meeting, fed my kids sugar to get them to behave, and gone out for drinks with colleagues when my life goals should have pointed me home. I don’t believe in perfect bosses or perfect parents. It’s OK to miss some things.

I’ll also tell you, I’m kind of a hardliner. In the last five years my team and I have only missed our weekly sales meeting a handful of times. When my kids were young, I kept a meticulous calendar to ensure I was spending at least 70% of my evenings at home. I need these kind of clear rules to help me make good decisions.

There is a time for just once. Sometimes, calling off the meeting or letting the kids sleep in their clothes is the most sane decision you can make.

If you do it twice in a row, you’re starting a pattern. After five times, it becomes the new rule.

Your team is taking their cues from you. Like it or not, they’re probably going to take your example and ratchet it down a notch.

One of the biggest gifts you can give people is the gift of high expectations, and the discipline to stick with a system that works.  Don’t let Just Once derail you.

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