Last summer, after my annual working vacation, I wrote this post about what I learned about running my business from completing a jigsaw puzzle.

This year, my mom bought another puzzle and dumped it on the same table. We took extra care with the pieces, not wanting to repeat last year’s disappointment of one lost piece.

Since two of my nieces joined us this year at the lake house, we had a larger pool of potential participants in our project. For some reason, though, the girls seemed more focused on playing together and less focused on the puzzle — until we neared its completion.

We started the puzzle the way most people do, separating the frame pieces from the center pieces. We made quick progress on the frame but felt flummoxed when we couldn’t close the frame. We seemed to be missing key pieces. We pored over the rest of the pieces, coming up short.

We could have allowed that setback to distract us, but instead we decided to work on other parts of the puzzle.

First Lesson – Don’t allow setbacks in one area to distract you from making progress in other areas. In my business, I face setbacks regularly. I can shut down to only focus on the setbacks, losing valuable time. Or, I can shift focus to another area and create forward momentum.

After working on the center pieces for a while, we discovered that we made mistakes with forcing frame pieces together that were not intended to fit. Once we removed those pieces, we quickly finished the frame.

Second Lesson – Removing pieces that don’t fit can free you to find the right fit for all the pieces. This is an important business lesson. Sometimes, I try to force people to fit into roles in my business. When I do that, everyone is miserable and broken. When I let go of forcing a fit, I am free to help everyone find the right places.

Because the girls wanted to play, and because my mom spent a lot of time feeding and watching after the girls, I found myself working on the puzzle solo many times. I focused on finding one piece at a time, again and again, making significant progress during that alone time.

Third Lesson – Sometimes you will feel alone. Sometimes you are alone. As the sole owner of my business, there are times I feel like everything depends upon me; I am moving everything forward on my own. And it is true. Though I have an amazing team, and they provide exceptional support and creativity, there are some parts of the business that I must carry alone. I must courageously continue, when no one is watching, to put the pieces together that will result in progress for my company.

After completing much of the puzzle on my own, I noticed the girls take a renewed interest in finishing the puzzle. We had three small sections left. In a 1000 piece puzzle, making early progress is difficult because there are so many pieces to sift through. At the end, with only 50 pieces or so left, you can make quick progress because trial and error becomes an effective strategy. But 5 girls (and one grown up, me!) around the puzzle got too crowded. When I stepped back, the girls completed the puzzle quickly.

Fourth Lesson – Sometimes I have to get out of the way so that work can move ahead faster. To complete the puzzle, I had to step back to let the girls finish; they finished much faster than I would have finished alone. Similarly, there are areas of control I need to give up in my business in order to let others do their work more effectively.

This year, we finished our project and celebrated an absolutely complete puzzle. Although we had a couple of scares with holes in the puzzle, we found and recovered the missing pieces.

Now I need to find the perfect spot on my office wall to hang the framed work as a reminder of this summer’s important lessons.

Tell me something! Do you do jigsaw puzzles? If so, what does working on them teach you about life and business?