Just Make A Dent
One of the first jobs I had was as a dishwasher in a family restaurant. I am absolutely convinced that my first job prepared me for the rest of my life. One of the many lessons I learned was how to get unstuck. What’s the best way to do this?
Make a dent.
If you’ve never washed dishes at a restaurant, here is a brief breakdown of how it all works: You have plates, bowls, glasses, mugs, and silverware which comes back in bus carts. You then have a series of racks that you put all of those things on and you run it through an industrial strength machine. When the machine is done doing its thing, you take the dishes out and un-rack them placing them back on a clean bus cart and send them out to the front of the restaurant. I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to the horrible world of being backed up. On my first day on the job, I moved really slowly. I wasn’t sure the best way to rack the dishes, I was fumbling a lot and a ton of bus carts kept coming back. I eventually reached a point where I was trapped by all of the carts and dishes all around me. I literally could not get out from behind the station. There was a guy named Chris who was working on the grill in the front who was considered one of the best dish washers there. Chris came back and parted the sea of bus carts. I was told to go on my break and as I walked down the stairs I heard a lot of clanging, clinking, and spraying. I was downstairs for 15 minutes. When I came back up there were no dishes left. Chris was cleaning the now spotless dishwashing station and rolling out five bus charts. I was in awe.
The following Sunday I returned to find that I was on dishes with Chris and my job was to un-rack. When I punched in my boss told me that Chris was going to train me so that I could build up my speed. My initial thought was that what Chris had done was magic and that there was no way I could move that fast, but I soon learned that I could be just as fast or even faster if I wanted. That first morning it was a breakfast rush which meant we got slammed with 4 bus carts at once. Before we even started Chris took me aside and said:
“You see all of those carts? All you have to do is make a dent”
With that, he grabbed two of the bus trays and loaded them on to the station. He then set up four racks making a trail down to where the two bus trays were at the end of the station and started racking. He showed me that the main reason other dishwashers would get backed up is that they didn’t have the room to rack. He showed me that before I could get anything done, I had to make some space to do the work. By the end of the morning I was able to rack and un-rack on my own and my speed had also increased. By the end of the week I was even faster and by the end of that month, I was training other guys how to do the dishes faster. I could have never done any of that had I not learned the importance of making a dent and giving myself space to work.
Fast forward to today and any time I get stuck. I ask myself how I can make a dent in whatever it is I need to do. Let’s say my email is backed up. I set aside some time and I go through and answer anything I know has a strict time line on it. By the end I may not be at inbox zero, but I’ve made a dent which means I’m closer to it. When I used to teach and get backed up on grading I’d set some time aside, look at what I could make a dent in, and went to work. The powerful thing about all of this from a psychological perspective is that seeing progress, no matter how small, makes us want to keep pushing.
The only time we truly get stuck is when we can’t see any progress.
So the next time you are feeling like nothing’s working and you’re really stuck. Remember that wall of dishes and remember Chris’ words:
All you have to do is make a dent.