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Do you REALLY need to get yet more things done?

Do you REALLY need to get yet more things done?

Maybe today’s fashion for increasing personal productivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

    Increasing your personal productivity is the subject matter of a slew of books, magazine articles, and more than a few successful blogs. It’s fashionable, popular, and, most of all, highly profitable for the authors and writers of software. But does that make it right?

    I believe that more cookery books are published each year that any other genre, followed closely by diet books — surely one of the great symbiotic relationships of all time. You stuff yourself, then diet, then fall off the diet and stuff yourself because you feel guilty. Oh hell . . . back to the diet.

    Maybe it’s the same with recipes for getting yet more things done: you overload your time and brain with impossible expectations, hype yourself up on the latest fad for coping with the overload, then crash and burn — swearing that, next time, you really will to find a way to crack the whole, messy problem of doing more in your waking hours than those hours were ever designed to hold.

    From where I stand, this looks to be almost the ultimate in self-inflicted madness: people stuck in a have-it-all, instant-gratification society demanding techniques for organizing the lives they are systematically filling with the effort to have yet more, every minute of every day.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against helping others to be more organized or better able to juggle life’s necessary demands. But I am starting to wonder how many of those demands are really necessary; and whether the cure isn’t in danger of becoming more onerous that the disease.

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    Our gas-guzzling lives

    Our addiction to getting things done is not unlike that other addiction: the one to huge SUVs and trucks. Both the trucks and the productivity software and ideas are undeniably flashy and pack a lot of horsepower under the hood, but neither are good for us in the long run, nor strictly necessary.

    Using an SUV, or a truck the size of a semi, to go to the mall, as many people seem to do where I live, must empty your pocket-book even more quickly than it sucks up gasoline. Filling your every moment with constant activity, however carefully and expensively organized, is going to suck you dry of energy just as quickly, then leave you as exhausted as a worked-out oilfield.

    And if huge, gas-guzzling autos threaten to destroy our physical environment through global warming, what are people’s huge, energy-guzzling lives doing to the mental and social fabric of our world? What are they doing to our organizations, where it’s become commonplace to expect highly-trained professionals to work harder, for longer hours, than we would judge humane for laboratory rats?

    Whatever happened to “working smart?”

    Why are we now so devoted to getting more and more things done in less and less time? Not so long ago, we were all urged to “work smarter, not harder.” Whatever happened to that idea?

    As a natural skeptic, I suspect part of the emphasis on constant busyness is simple: it makes some people a good deal of money. It’s just that those people aren’t often the ones doing all the extra work. They’re being smarter while you’re working harder.

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    I also suspect it’s far easier to write a book about how to aspire to a four-hour week than it is to do what the book recommends — once you’ve had the book idea, of course. That’s really smart. The rest is the age-old business of selling snake-oil.

    In America at least, my long-time bugbear, the Puritan Work Ethic, is a major contributor to today’s fashion for finding still better ways to work more.

    According to the work ethic mythology, work is a GOOD THING IN ITSELF. Hard work is what makes you into some kind of hero (most often an exhausted, burned-out one), so more of it is bound to be better than less. There’s a nasty suspicion in the Puritan mind that people who appear to do things easily are probably up to something immoral, because they AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH; and their achievements, however impressive, are really NOT WORTH MUCH.

    If effort is what gives work its value, then whatever is gained with most effort will be most valuable.

    A sideways look at personal productivity

    This Calvinistic belief that effort is what gives value is, of course, total nonsense. If it were true, a crook who spent months of hard effort organizing a complex robbery would be commended; and a doctor who had a moment of insight that cured a sick child would be given a stiff dressing-down for laziness.

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    What gives value to anything, work or play, is the importance and worth of the outcome, not how much effort and organization went into it. In a world that was truly progressing towards a better state, there would only be one kind of productivity that was valued: the productivity that comes from finding ways to get worthwhile results with less effort than before.

    That, of course, is what productivity actually is. Doing more by working longer hours and focusing your efforts more closely isn’t increasing your productivity; it’s only the result of working harder. To be more productive means to do more with less effort, not more with more effort. And if the only way you get more done is by wasting less time in a muddle about what to do, that’s a trick you can only play a single time.

    NOT getting some things done is what we truly need

    What’s wrong with today’s fashion for a thousand ways to up your personal productivity? Too much of it is about filling every moment with activity. It’s about doing when you would be better employed thinking. It’s about focusing on getting results when you should be focused on whether you need those particular results at all.

    We’re creating a world of hard-driving ants, not a civilization where people find ways to increase their time enjoying life through becoming cleverer at doing only what has to be done — then doing it with the minimum effort.

    What rational being would devote one minute more to work than is essential — let alone find ways to pack more and more into every waking moment?

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    Look around you at the world of nature. Which animals spend most time at the “work” of finding food? The answer, of course, is those that eat the least nutritious things in terms of their bulk. Cows and other herbivores must spend hours grazing because they need prodigious amounts of grass, which has little energy value. Lions and tigers, in contrast, spend most of their time sleeping and lazing about, because their meat-based diet is extremely high in energy per pound of dead gazelle.

    Here’s the choice then: do you want to emulate a cow or a tiger?

    Is your life based on gathering lots of low-energy, readily available input of the kind that never runs away? If so, any help you can get with packing more activity into 24 hours is well worth it. Or are you aiming for the kind of life that feeds on highly energy-rich inputs — even if you have to devote a good deal of intelligence, skill, and speed to catch them — so you can spend the rest of the time enjoying yourself in the sun?

    The day that someone comes up with a good technique for getting much less done, with much less effort, while still meeting life’s needs, you can bet I’ll be there at the front of the line to get my copy.

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    Last Updated on April 22, 2021

    How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

    How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

    Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

    Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

    In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

    One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

    “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

    Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

    Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

    Motivation Is Not the Answer

    How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

    If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

    We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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    Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

    Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

    How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

    Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

    1. Define What a Win Looks Like

    In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

    Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

    Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

    When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

    4 Steps to Define a Win
    • Know the outcome you desire.
    • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
    • Write the outcome down.
    • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

    Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

    As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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    Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

    2. Evaluate Your Activity

    Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

    Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

    Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

    Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

    • Do now
    • Plan to do it later
    • Delegate to someone else
    • Delete it

    Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

    • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
    • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
    • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
    • Does this activity have to be done at all?

    Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

    3. Prioritize Your Calendar

    If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

    First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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    It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

    “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

    Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

    “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

    Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

    It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

    4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

    We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

    Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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    Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

      But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

      “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

      Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

      Use these questions to reflect on your day:

      • What went well?
      • What didn’t go well?
      • What can I change?
      • What do I need to start doing?
      • What do I need to stop doing?

      The Bottom Line

      Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

      Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

      “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

      Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

      That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

      More on Creating Healthy Routines

      Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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