I listened to a fascinating interview with Sir Matthew Pinsent, the Olympic rower recently. He was being asked about the gold medal he won at Athens (his fourth at four different Olympics) and how the team had managed to achieve it after rowing very poorly at the world championships the year before. He explained that the team had sat down after the poor showing and asked themselves openly if they really wanted to win an Olympic gold medal and if they did were they prepared to do what was required to reach that level. After agreeing that they all did one of the issues they faced was the fact they had a four man rowing team, a manager, trainers, physios, nutritionists, boat builders, sponsors and well wishers all offering advice and guidance. All this input, sometimes contradictory, hampered the decision making process. So they developed a strategy to help them make decisions affecting the team and the challenge for gold, and it was a brilliant one – ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’

This became a mantra, a code they lived buy. It allowed them to very quickly focus on what was important and discard what wasn’t. What had become very complicated now sounds so simple. By distilling down what they were all trying to achieve to this fantastic short question they managed to achieve their ultimate goal – first place and the gold medal at the Olympics.

How brilliant would it be if we could all do that? How much of our day do we spend doing the unimportant, how often are we distracted by the trivial? How often have you watched a colleague deeply involved in a task and asked yourself why are they doing that? I’d hazard a guess that the inconsequential takes up far too big a percentage of our average day and we probably don’t even notice it most of the time. The truth for most of us in this agency is we don’t have spare time to waste. Most of us would agree we’re busy all day, so we don’t need to carry the extra weight of the frivolous or the minor. So the next time we’re feeling swamped ask ourselves the question; will it making the boat go faster?