Alright, I didn’t intentionally kill the thing, it just …died! The plant in question is called the Sansevieria trifasciata, also called viper’s bowstring hemp or how I like to call it, mother-in-law’s tongue. According to Wikipedia, this popular house plant is tolerant of low light levels and irregular watering; during winter it needs only one watering every couple of months. Sounds perfect! Why couldn’t I keep this -relatively easy to keep alive plant, well.. alive?
It got me thinking about the other things in my work life that sort of died, not in an obvious way like the plant but in a discreet way it just withered. Working in a startup, you need to juggle multiple responsibilities. Resources are scarce and money is tight. New ideas prop up every day from inspiring people, investors and advisors. How do you decide what idea to pick up and run with or drop or delegate? Here is what I learnt from picking up the task of decorating my office.
Make it a habit
Full disclosure: I know nothing about plants. All my wife told me was that this plant is an easy an one to maintain. Take care of it and it’ll take care of you! Perfect for my office. What I didn’t realise was that between all the stuff at work, meetings, planning etc I never made taking care of the plant a part of my daily routine.
Life lesson: Don’t take on additional responsibilities at work, even if they seem simple enough, if you cannot promise to give it time to understand it’s requirements completely.
Ask for help
Making this plant a part of my routine wasn’t working. Instead, I should’ve asked for help. Getting someone from my team who has a better understanding or at least more interest in plants would’ve done a far better job of keeping the plant alive.
Life lesson: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from a team mate. Underestimating a task is the biggest mistake you can do. Taking the advice of an expert will help you better understand what that task requires in terms of time and skill.
Outsource it or let it die
Would my plant have died if I had relented and made it the responsibility of my housekeeper? Makes more sense in hindsight doesn’t it? I underestimated the involvement and internally I may have also shirked from the task of explaining what was needed to be done. Sometimes the main reason why we take on work is because we think the time it takes to teach someone else to do it is longer.
Life lesson: Plan long term. Always outsource a non critical task to either a fellow team mate or contractor. You could manage the task but in the long run it just isn’t scalable and you would be ignoring your primary responsibilities. If outsourcing just isn’t a possibility then the decision to defer the task to a time in the future would be the smart thing to do.
Measure and Evaluate
My plant was dying but I didn’t know until it was beyond the point of fixing. I wasn’t aware of the signs this plant gives before it gives out and dies. If I watched it more carefully in the beginning I could’ve been more aware of it’s changes and acted early on.
Life lesson: Without metrics and constant evaluations, it’ll be hard to tell if your efforts are succeeding. You won’t really know if your doing well or not until it’s too late. Plan for measurable objectives that you can track on a regular basis. Create mini goals so that you will know early on if you are on track or not.advice, life lessons, startup advice