Priorities, lists, and focus

There are many books written about productivity in any given year. The essence of most of these books is as follows –

1. Start with your priorities – the easiest way to get to these is to work backward from what you are seeking to accomplish.

2. Make a list of things you’d like to get done and ensure these are ordered in alignment with your priorities.

3. Block out distractions and focus to get everything you want done as efficiently as possible.

Rinse and repeat.

Do more? or less but better?

One of our morning activities on holiday in a new place is to have a discussion about what we’d like to do that day.

(We like to leave plenty of buffer time in our schedule for relaxed starts and generally avoid booking too many things in advance. This approach has its trade-offs – but, we’re comfortable with them.)

Ergo the morning discussion on what we feel like doing during the day. The crux of the discussion tends to revolve around the trade-off between breadth and depth. Should we do more? Or less but better?

There isn’t a right answer to this. On some days, we choose breadth and, on others, we pick depth. I notice we pick depth more often than we do breadth. But, on reflection, it isn’t the specific choice that matters as much as the discussion of the trade-offs and the explicit choice that follows that discussion.

There’s never a perfect answer to how to spend a great day on holiday. If we’re lucky, we may find the perfect answer given our constraints and preferences.

It applies just as well to a day on holiday as it does to any other day in our lives.

When in Rome…

Whenever we’ve had the opportunity to visit a new place, we get a glimpse of the culture of the place when we’re out and about. There’s a certain rhythm to how things are done – the way people drive, the way pedestrians walk, and so on.

Even if we don’t understand why, it is generally helpful to adapt quickly to the norms of the new place (at the very least, it helps avoid stares or honks :)). As a species, we’re wonderful at mimicking each other. So, it isn’t hard to follow “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – but, it does make me marvel at how easily norms carry over to a new visitor.

On the one hand, it reminds me of the idea that we must fit in before we stand out. In new cultures, it is better to show you’re capable of being an insider before attempting to inspire change (assuming it is necessary).

On the other, it brings to the light the power of culture in any organization. When new members of the organization arrive, they look around to understand how things are done.

The big question, then, is – in our families/teams/companies/neighborhoods, what will they see?

A day to give thanks…

…to the people who gave us a break when we most needed it.

…to the people who love us and inspire us every day.

…for the many wonderful things that we take for granted on a daily basis.

Of course, it doesn’t just have to be on this day. It could be every day.

Today, then, is just a reminder to make gratitude a daily practice.

Happy thanksgiving!

Something to get offended about

If you are looking for something to get offended about, there’s no lack of possible stimuli. A few minutes spent on Twitter or any social network with pseudonymous identities, for example, will do the trick. There’s also no dearth of sensationalist news headlines that exist to do just that.

Racist (or otherwise) celebrities on Twitter, news channels, and many other forms of media feed on our attention. And, the easiest way to capture that attention is to sensationalize or offend.

The better we understand this, the easier it becomes to see this play out around us. And, the better we see, the easier it becomes to focus our limited attention on things that help us make progress on what matters.

The fact is – there’s a lot of stuff out there that sucks. And, at any given point, there are also a lot of people out there who’d rather not have folks like us doing what we do.

But, there’s little to be gained by focusing on that. We maximize our contribution by shutting out all that noise and keeping focused on work that matters.

In the short run, that helps make our world better. And, if we’re consistent and lucky, that may be our best shot at making the world better in the long run as well.

Magical abilities

Growing up in particularly nerdy schools, we used to have stories float around about some of our peers’ magical academic abilities – e.g. person X remembered a page by just looking at it for a minute.

These stories and an obvious absence of said magical abilities inspired an observational study of sorts through multiple interviews and conversations over the past fifteen years. The exceptional individuals studied were well represented across fields (e.g. music, research, parenting, venture capital) and I’ve found 3 things to be true –

1. They cultivated a passion for a craft/topic that they had some innate aptitude for
2. They then learnt to focus by saying no to nearly everything (typical exceptions were one or two out of health, family, friends, or a hobby) outside of their craft
3. And, finally, they worked obsessively toward getting better – this obsession generally showed itself in long hours that, over time, felt more like play than work.

The other interesting finding was that exceptional ability didn’t guarantee happiness. Happiness seemed to elude those that applied these abilities for extrinsic reasons (satisfy others/earn a reward/prove a point) and, instead, embraced those who found meaningful intrinsic reasons for doing the work.