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Busy Beavers Build Piles Of Sticks By Steven Gillman

"Well, you're just a busy beaver, aren't you?" You've either heard or used this cliche, but what do you know about beavers? Let me tell you about something I learned.

One night on the Discovery Channel, I watched a scientist determine how beavers knew where to put the sticks to build their dams. It's by the sound of water, he discovered. A recording of running water would soon have the beavers busy covering the tape player with sticks. He could get them to build useless piles of sticks anywhere he wanted.

What a great metaphor! Aren't we often building useless piles of sticks? We keep busy, responding to whatever drives us, but without doing anything truly productive. My personal favorite is making redundant to-do lists, or adding something already done to my list, just to check it off. Talk about a useless pile of sticks!

Efficiency Versus Effectiveness

It's worth noting that the beavers were very efficient at piling sticks on tape recorders. It didn't help the dam construction one bit, of course. Efficiency clearly doesn't equal effectiveness, but is it so obvious in our own lives?

Sometimes when we look deep enough we find that we are busy building nothing. For example, a man can be efficient at his job, and think he's effective, maybe because sales are up. Then he sees that he doesn't like the job, and isn't building the future he wants. The company may love him, but his effort is producing nothing more than a pile of sticks, as far as he's concerned.

Even the tape player gets to be part of this metaphor. Don't we sometimes follow our own internal "tapes," and do useless things as a result? We don't have to though. It's time to take a look at our daily routines. It's time to be an effective beaver instead of a busy beaver.

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