I'm starting to learn that a huge part of getting better at the things I care care about requires the willingness to get actively worse at something else. Consciously choosing to do things poorly goes hand-in-hand with doing other things really well.
Getting Worse to Get Better
For example, I'm trying to do a worse job responding to email promptly. Yes, worse. I've realized that responding to email extremely quickly is something that feels productive but in most cases actually contributes very little to my overall goals and vision. In order to maintain quick response times I have to constantly monitor incoming messages and decide what to do with them. This breaks my focus and makes it more difficult to work on the things that really matter -- like writing articles, doing research, coaching, and everything else that my business and life is actually built upon.
Another example is keeping my various inboxes completely zeroed out during the week. In the past, this felt like a worthy endeavor and was something I took a bit of pride in. Email inbox always at zero, physical inbox always empty, all messages on all social networking sites responded to -- I was a man on top of his life! Much like with my fascination with responding to email promptly, I realized this endeavor that felt productive was actually pulling me away from what really matters. Instead of constantly zeroing out all my inboxes I could do it at a more relaxed pace.
Busy Work or Busy Working?
First, I shifted to making sure they were empty by the end of the day and now I'm experimenting with letting them fill up and remain largely unprocessed until the end of the week. That's not to say that important or time sensitive items that come into my life aren't responded to swiftly. Instead, I'm just becoming more okay with waiting until my Weekly Review to fully process everything down to zero. This means I have more time to actually do the work that matters and not the outwardly productive, but actually fairly unproductive, work of cleaning out inboxes. Knowing that I have time set aside at the end of the week to process everything frees me up to use my cognitive capacities on difficult work problems throughout the week without having to worry about the fact that there is some paper sitting in my inbox or a couple emails that need responses.
What are you willing to actively get worse at? Are there pseudo-productive tasks keeping you from the work that really matters? What would it take to get these off your mind a little more easily and efficiently so you can use your time and attention on real work?
Photo by Bryan Costin