Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, wrote a great piece on a way to keep your higher-ups happy and feeling needed without hindering your work. The secret? Put a deliberate mistake in your final piece.
One of Joe’s clients was forever ruining projects by insisting on stupid changes. Then something odd started happening: each time the client was presented with a newly photographed layout, he’d encounter the image of Joe’s own arm at one edge of the frame, partly obscuring the ad. “The guy would look at it,” Joe recalled, “and he’d say, ‘What the hell is that hairy arm doing in there?’” Joe would apologise for the slip-up. And then, “as he was stalking self-righteously away”, Joe said, “I’d call after him: ‘When I remove the arm, can we go into production?’ And he’d call over his shoulder, ‘Yes, but get that arm out of there first!’ Then I’d hear him muttering, ‘These people! You’ve got to watch them like a hawk.’”
Even those in authority want to feel useful and leave their mark. Let them do it without erasing your contribution.
If you want to get more done in your day, venture capitalist Sam Altman says it’s all about figuring out your main priorities. After all, what you measure by is what you execute on:
Value gets captured by execution. . . I used to make a list of everything I got done at the end of the day. It was remarkable how I could feel like I had a really busy day and realize that night I got nothing done. . .
You build what you measure—if you measure your productivity by the number of meetings you have in a day, you will have a lot of meetings. If you measure yourself by revenue growth or number of investments closed or something like that, you will probably have fewer meetings.
If you believe that going to space is the most important project for humanity, then work on it. If you can’t figure out how to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, go work for SpaceX (joining a great company is a much better plan than starting a mediocre one). If enterprise software is what you really love, then work on that.
And if, at the end of the day, you find that your list isn’t as long or doesn’t contain what you thought it would, Altman reminds us that it’s easy to change course tomorrow: all you have to do is re-direct your aim.
Over at Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman delve into a study they conducted with over 50,000 leaders to determine what guides some of us to making poor decisions. Their research concludes with nine key habits to avoid:
1. Laziness. This showed up as a failure to check facts, to take the initiative, to confirm assumptions, or to gather additional input. Basically, such people were perceived to be sloppy in their work and unwilling to put themselves out. They relied on past experience and expected results simply to be an extrapolation of the past.
2. Not anticipating unexpected events. It is discouraging to consistently consider the possibility of negative events in our lives, and so most people assume the worst will not happen. Unfortunately, bad things happen fairly often. People die, get divorced, and have accidents. Markets crash, house prices go down, and friends are unreliable.
3. Indecisiveness. At the other end of the scale, when faced with a complex decision that will be based on constantly changing data, it’s easy to continue to study the data, ask for one more report, or perform yet one more analysis before a decision gets made. When the reports and the analysis take much longer than expected, poor decision makers delay, and the opportunity is missed.
Zenger and Folkman go on to describe the other six, less powerful, habits that lead us to making poor choices. Do yourself a favor and read the full list of habits over on HBR, then take some time to see which of them you might need to overcome.
Being cool means straying from the norm, but recent studies have shown that if you stray too far, your brand or design may be strongly disliked. Unconventionality alone is not enough (for example, Segways are far from conventional, but not necessarily cool). Marketing scholar Caleb Warren explains that cool designs need to challenge norms, but not be too extreme.
Being cool requires a very delicate balance of doing something that shows that you go your own way and do your own thing, but you do it in a way that is socially desirable or at least acceptable.
The problem with being cool is that soon others will begin to imitate you. Slowly this will shift what was once cool to conventional, and you’re back at being uncool. As Warren says, “if you’re really doing something right, the chances are the coolness isn’t going to last because you’re going to shift what is the norm.” Our advice? Forget the fleetingness of cool and focus on creating things you enjoy, no matter where they fall on the spectrum.
Scientists agree: when it comes to maximizing alertness, coffee naps (drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a quick nap) are better than coffee or naps alone.
Joseph Stromberg shares how to use this method:
Taking a coffee nap is pretty straightforward. First, drink coffee…You need to drink it quickly, to give yourself a decently long window of time to sleep as it’s going through your gastrointestinal tract and entering your bloodstream. Right after you’re finished, immediately try to go to sleep. Finally, make sure to wake up within 20 minutes, so you don’t enter the deeper stages of sleep, and you’re awake when the caffeine is just starting to hit your brain.
From our own past experience and the throat-burns to prove it, this might be best done with cold brew or iced coffee.
Over at his blog, designer Craig Mod reminds us that we need to step back and refine our work from time to time:
Refinement is hard because it requires faith. Faith in the thing you’re refining — that the process of refinement will yield greater value; or faith that there is any value in the thing to begin with…
To leave something important to you unrefined — uniterated, firstdrafted — is the laziest safety net you can deploy. It’s almost lazier than not creating in the first place…
In refinement and iteration you finally get to know the thing you made. Really know it. Understand how bad it is. How great it could be. How much potential is still left unrealized. And within each iteration you move the thing forward; sometimes better, sometimes worse. But first you have to stop. If just for a moment.
Mod gives us a clear explanation here: what we release unrefined, or what we leave unrefined, always remains in a place where we’re not sure what it could become (maybe better, maybe not). The important part is to stop what we’re doing, pull back, and take some time to refine the work or our process. To do otherwise is simply lazy.
When it comes to being productive, focus and nose-to-the-ground mentalities get a lot of praise. However, on the other end of the spectrum is the value of being distracted. At Fast Company, Stelphanie Vozza gives us three reasons you should embrace the occasional distraction, including:
Distractions foster creativity: Distractions foster creativity because they put a higher number of stimuli in your conscious awareness, allowing you the opportunity to generate more new ideas….
An important part of using distractions is to look at them in a non-judgmental way. When a distraction happens, let it give you a chance to pay attention to more of the things around you and see what kind of creative inspiration it gives you.
Distractions improve your mood: Through research, Carson found that when someone is distracted, their mood can move from depressed to normal and continue in an upward direction. “When your mood is down you notice fewer things,” she says.
It’s important to note that distractions provide the most value when we’re either creatively stuck or in-between projects. If you’ve got work to do (and know you do), distractions can certainly hinder your ability to get it done. Of course, if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed while you work, a little distraction could be all you need to not only get a mood boost, but to be inspired too.