On Being Less Persnickety

Photo by Szoki Adams

My strengths can sometimes manifest as crippling weakness. 

I have strong opinions about things. Many things. Things like the freshness of the coffee I'm drinking and the method in which it was brewed (roasted no more than two weeks ago and brewed via Aeropress or Chemex, please), what I listen to while working (an instrumental playlist I've been curating for years), what I want my work environment to be like vis-a-vis the type of work I'm trying to do, the location I'm working vis-a-vis my current mood, the software I use to complete my work (I've researched everything I use to death), the pens and notebooks I use (Black Pilot G2 .07 and a hardcover Moleskine), and so on. I think you get the point.

I like this about myself. I think being discerning about the areas of your life that affect important things, like how well you're able to work, is a good idea. I know all my tools inside and out. I know I like everything I use and this helps flatten the runway to getting good work done.

On the other hand... damn, I'm persnickety. 

When do "being optimally discerning" and "being debilitatingly persnickety" start to overlap?

There's another way of working and being that appeals to me and it's the complete opposite of everything I wrote above. It's the idea of being completely unflappable regardless of what's going on around me. Of being able to use anything to do great work because my ability to do great work has transcended the quality of the tools available at my disposal. That my ability to sit down and concentrate is equally likely in a secluded writing nook as it is in a bustling café. The idea that I need nothing except my brain and the crudest of tools to get my work done.

The situation I want to avoid is needing a pristine environment and tools to get meaningful work done. I don't want to let less than ideal situations become an excuse to doing great things. 

I need to take some steps in the opposite direction so here are some ideas I'm going to start baking into my work routine more often to make sure I'm not letting my persnickety-ness take over:

Deliberately practicing working in distracting situations. Going to the café to work without my headphones. Sitting in the noisier part of the library. Working in a different location than I'm used to. 

Taking breaks from coffee. Drinking tea instead. Or maybe nothing. Or maybe just water. Show myself that I don't need a specific beverage to be awesome.

Deliberately break my morning and evening routines. Getting up late! Going to bed late! Getting up absurdly early! Going to bed absurdly early! Not to bed at all! It's time to get (occasionally) crazy with how I conduct my daily routines. Working in my pajamas. Working in a tuxedo. Working naked (that'll have to be a work from home day, I think).

Using less than ideal tools. Only working from my iPad for a few days! Using a public computer! Writing an article in long hand on the back of scrap paper with crayons! Writing an article in Microsoft Word! Using first party apps only!

Setting some process goals. Committing myself to a specific goal like writing 1,000 words per day and sticking to it no matter what. My personal feelings of inspiration and motivation become irrelevant if my commitment is to create a certain number of words every single day.

Man, even writing some of these out is giving me the heebie jeebies (which is probably proof that I need to do it). 

The key balance I need to learn to strike is that it's not bad to have standards or preferences for how I do things but it is kind of bad to confuse preferences with requirements. Uncovering preferences is fun and often quite meaningful but confusing them with requirements is a quick way to stop making progress on the projects and goals that matter the most to you.

Where do you stand on this equilibrium? Could you benefit from figuring out some preferences that will support the way you like to work or are you like me and perhaps need to take a step back and re-calibrate your persnickety ways?