I tend to read a lot of books…and well, right now, I’m reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. It’s the second time I’ve read this same book…but I am rereading it as it resonated with me last time, and it’s a new version.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this book…or rather that really resonated with me…was the following quote: “Let’s face it: if there’s no good reason to be doing something, it’s not worth doing. I’m often stunned by how many people have forgotten why they’re doing what they’re doing–and by how quickly a simple question like, “Why are you doing that?” can get them back on track.” ..I equate David Allen’s why to Susan W’s “So what?”. And, I sort of equate the not having a clear why to why Extension educators might have been so overwhelmed with COVID.

If your mission was clearly defined prior to COVID, COVID would not have changed that mission, only how you went about achieving your mission. I realize that several of us have things we are dealing with that are related to COVID that have been making us sort of pivot a lot (daily perhaps), but our overall personal missions probably have not changed…only our strategies. For instance, if my mission was to drive to Kansas and as I drove I came across a detour due to road construction, it doesn’t mean I would scrap the whole trip, only take a different road. So on the travels of your mission, when you hit the detour that came up due to COVID, how did you figure out an alternate route? Or were you one of the ones that was paralyzed by the COVID detour notification? There are always multiple routes toward achieving our missions…we just need to be nimble and pick the best route at the time, and then alter our route as is needed…but not get totally derailed from detours thrown in front of us.

I recently shared with a colleague of ours that it’s really important to know the why of what you are doing, or you will never stay motivated and excited about your work. Why is it important? Why are you the perfect person for the job of ______? What portion of _____ are you uniquely positioned to contribute to the big why? Why is now the best time to teach _____?” If you can’t answer those questions you are probably going to easily be paralyzed by any small thing that comes along.

If my words give you pause…take your pause and think it through. Why should UNL have hired you? …And how are you contributing to the mission of Extension? What is your Why? How are the actions you take each year contributing toward achieving your why? Who are the researchers in your field that have studied why your why is important? Who are the researchers in your field that have contributed knowledge about how best to address the why of your field? If you can’t answer those questions, I hope that you take some time to pause and figure out your why.

Once you have your why, you can start working on the What, and then the Where of your work. Don’t start with I would love to teach ____ at ____ because it would be fun. Although honestly I have fell for that approach multiple times! Those are one hit wonders! Always start with your why, then work in establishing what content helps you achieve the why (and there probably will be two or three contents that will equally address the why), then figure out the where. Never start from the where and what and then try to figure out why…it’s really hard to sustain those programs…even though many times you will be asked by the public to do it just that way. They usually have a stake in the what and where…but never can tell you why, other than I think that XYZ person would love that. Planning in this way is reactive, much more time consuming, and once the person suggesting this goes away and that program is over, you will be lost with trying to figure out the what next.

The work that we do in Extension is very important and certainly there is enough work that we all need and can contribute in our own ways to the big why of our organization. Only through contributions by a diverse talented group of individuals can we ever achieve the why of Nebraska Extension.

“Helping Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education.” -Nebraska Extension’s Mission.

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