Make some space to care

llama-flame-by-ana

Our time is under pressure and we rush from one task/meeting/thought to the next.

We often provision enough time to do something, but not enough time to care about it.

We get a lot done this way, sure, but what does this rushing cost?

  • We write the email, but don’t give it that final once-over
  • We’re asked for an opinion and we give an impulsive reaction
  • We act and respond out of habit, rather than authenticity

The world is constantly experiencing a version of us, and our work with less care than we might like to give.

And right now, the world feels like it could use a little more care, not less.

Now, it isn’t practical for us to agonise over every word, tweak every pixel and second-guess every thought.

But what if we left space for:

  • one last look after we think something is ready to go?
  • one more beat to properly understand the question?
  • one more moment to apply the full force of our effort, attention and focus?

What would be the value of making space for just a little more care?

Turning the right wheel

dashboard-by-frank-dibona

When we’re grasping at the past or pining after the future, we’re essentially yanking on a steering wheel that’s not connected to what we’re trying to influence.

We turn it this way and that, hoping to have some impact, but it only takes a small dose of perspective to realise how futile (and ridiculous) this is.

The wheel is however, connected to the present moment and every turn we make has an impact right now. Being deliberate and attentive to what’s happening right here and now is the only way to both steer our ship in the present moment and to have any influence over our future.

One thing at a time

Stepping stones in water

We all feel the tension and stress as too many things compete for our time and attention.

It’s being stretched too thin. Buffeted from one task, meeting, engagement or demand to the next. Left with no time to absorb the complexities and nuance of each situation, let alone try to solve it.

The phone in our pocket never stops buzzing:

“Darren has uploaded a new photo.”

“How to make your life better with this one weird trick.”

“You won’t believe how these 10 celebs look after a diet of kale and weasels.”

It’s no wonder that we feel the need to manage these competing demands by tackling a few of them at the same time.

I’ll write the report while I check some emails. I’ll eat lunch while I read the treatment. I’ll finish the proposal while I’m in the meeting.

We double and triple up on simultaneous activities because we think they make us more effective. In fact they have the opposite effect.

Multi-tasking is hugely damaging to our productivity because it comes with such a bevy of hidden costs. It feels like you’re getting more done, but that’s just because your brain is struggling under the burden of all the things you’ve loaded into it.

Multitasking forces us to pay a tax in attention and will power, let’s call it The Brain Tax.

When you switch back and forth between tasks, you pay The Brain Tax.

When you hold more than one subject in your RAM at the same time, you pay The Brain Tax.

When you start something and then leave it incomplete while you move onto something else, you pay The Brain Tax.

Anytime you’re not doing and then completing one thing at a time, you’re paying The Brain Tax which erodes your concentration, efficiency and effectiveness.

If you want to get a lot done, then focus on one thing at a time. Start it, finish it and then move on to the next thing. If you’re worried about the landscape shifting while you’ve got your head down, then do a quick sweep of your priorities between task.

You’ll get more done. You’ll be more effective. You’ll feel better about what you leave behind.

We can’t do everything, but we can certainly commit to one thing at a time.

Figuring out what comes next

Changed priorities ahead

The to-do list is never-ending.

As soon as we tick something off, two more tasks will take its place. It’s an admin hydra.  The sooner we accept this, the better,  because it’s not going to change anytime soon.

That doesn’t mean, more work, harder work, longer work – it just means that we have to learn to accept that our work is never done. We need to learn to give it boundaries or it will dominate everything.

Taking this as our starting point, there is value in execution, for sure, but there is also huge (and often hidden) value in prioritisation.

When you’re not going to get to everything, what are you going to get to? What will you complete and what will you leave?

Irrespective of which method of prioritisation you use, you first need a realistic understanding and acceptance of the time and resources you have available. This means not pretending you have 10 productive hours if you have 3 hours of scheduled meetings. It means not saying you can work late if you have to pick up the kids and get them to bed.

Once the playing field is established, you can then bring your priorities to bear.

There are an infinite number of ways to cut this, but here are two personal favourites, and they’re not mutually exclusive.

The first is to use an Eisenhower matrix which is a great tool for distinguishing what’s urgent for what’s important (we tend to always conflate the two, and that can create a lot of unnecessary noise). Lots has been written about this, so I won’t repeat it all here. Google is your friend.

The second is to ask “which task will add the most value for the effort required, right now?” It’s important to add the “right now” when you ask the question as both the value and effort required to complete a task will change over time. It’s also vital to not just do the easy tasks first, but whatever is most valuable with respect to its effort.

Both of these methods will then give you a focussed list which you can then slot in to your available time. If there isn’t enough time to complete at least one of your tasks, then you need to break them down and learn how to eat the elephant.

Either one of these methods will go a long way towards making sure you’re focussing your time and attention somewhere useful, but neither will offer you any solace until you’ve made peace with the fact that there will always be something more to do, and you’re not going to get it all done in this lifetime.

When less is more

A diver swimming towards a shipwreck in a bright blue patch of water

Less is more, they say.

Clearly they don’t have my to-do list.

But they are right.

If you want depth, it comes at a cost. Usually breadth.

As a generalist, trading breadth for depth seems like a bad deal.

I live in breadth – It’s where I operate best. Covering a lot of ground, close to the surface.

But sometimes you need to explore the deep; to strap on the tanks and take a dive.

It means that you can’t get the same lateral movement you can in the shallows, but you get more depth.

Less breadth, is more depth.