Friday change-of-pace: Lessons from a robin & a square yard of dirt

Yesterday morning I was sitting at my computer in my office and a motion outside the window caught my eye. I looked out and saw a robin hopping across the lawn with something in its mouth.

I went to the window and saw it was picking up things off the lawn. In its beak it had a small feather, some dry grass and a stringy weed. Then, right behind it, was another robin pecking and picking up similar things. They were obviously collecting material to build a nest, lay eggs and hatch a family of baby robins later this spring.

As a somewhat impatient person, I immediately thought that it looked like a really long and tedious process to build a strong and stable nest, securing it in the branches of a tree, one tiny feather and one piece of dry grass at a time. A robin beak can’t haul much material. And a bird’s nest is really a remarkable feat of engineering.

But then I thought of another story that is often told in my family to motivate bored and lazy children (that was me once) and grandchildren. When I was barely born, in the spring of 1951, my father was building a small home in what was then called the Crescent area in southeastern Salt Lake County. In fact, I’m told they just had one room finished when they brought me home from the hospital to be with my five older sisters. (My oldest sister was 10 when I was born.)

My mother, who loved plants and gardens and who had a very green thumb, really wanted a nice yard and lawn as the house was being finished. But the soil was rocky, dry and hard, and my father told her he would borrow a tractor and plow it up so she could plant grass and flowers.

However, he was working two jobs to support a young and large family, and spending every extra minute finishing the house. So the yard didn’t get plowed up.

As my father used to tell the story, he came home from work one evening and a little corner of the yard, only about 3 feet by 3 feet, was dug up, rocks removed, and leveled.

He told my mother that it would take forever to prepare the yard that way, and that he would try to get it plowed. But the next evening, another square yard of dirt was dug up and leveled, and another square yard the day after that, and so forth.

It really wasn’t very long before my mother had the yard prepared, planted and beatified, in her trademark way — one square yard at a time.

I’ve found in my life that, like the robins and my mother, anyone can accomplish a major task if they break it down into small chunks and work at it consistently. When I have a big writing project, if I do a little each day, I get it done. If I procrastinate until the deadline, I’m in trouble. And I’m getting too old for all-nighters.

A little progress every day, like the robins building a nest, or my mother creating a beautiful yard, produces amazing results.