The “work smarter, not harder” mantra has a lot of good advice in it; why spend more time on mundane tasks when you can create a more efficient way to do it faster, with less work? Unfortunately, there’s a few downsides to this mindset; specifically, a big ego overload of feeling smarter than the rest of the “working harder” coworkers around you. This classic Book of Hook post outlines the productivity pitfalls of this kind of thinking:
Your Attitude Writing Checks Your Work Ethic Can’t Cash: An overinflated sense of your own abilities creates a constant state of production deficit, because you assume that you can make it up with a burst of brilliance and/or crunch.But there is no countering surplus to offset the deficit. The only way surpluses show up is when you finish a (presumably) hard task much faster than you anticipated. But instead of banking the surplus (i.e. moving on immediately to your next task), you spend it relaxing and screwing off because, whew, you just earned a small vacation by busting shit out in an hour that you thought would take all day…
Trap of the Easy Task: And yeah, it’s often all good, but when operating at a slight deficit things can go pear shaped quickly when you accidentally spring the trap of the easy task… In other words, an easy task like this is so easy that it’s a constant time cost for everyone irrespective of ability, so there’s no opportunity nor need for crazy overestimation since what could possibly go wrong?… It’s like having a perfect monetary budget that assumes no crazy “one time” only bills, except life is full of crazy one time only bills and the only way you can keep those under control is by giving yourself a budgetary capacitor to dampen the fluctuations… But if you had banked your surplus hours before and/or worked at closer to your theoretical peak effectiveness then this type of thing would get absorbed in the wash…
Identity Recalibration Crisis: Which leads to a potential identity recalibration crisis upon landing at a company with high performers that work hard and smart. And that will happen if you’re good. Now you’re no longer at the top of the curve. In fact, shit, you’re in the middle or bottom of the curve, a situation your brain probably never considered as an option.
To fix these kinds of pitfalls, what you really need to do is kill the underachiever inside you. A few of our favorite ways to turn that sinking ship around are:
1. Never say “I’ll finish it up tomorrow” or “I’ll make up for it by coming in early/staying late/working the weekend”. This is an easy trap to get into, where you keep incurring time debt until at some point you realize you’re now three weeks behind on a task that should have taken two days.
2. Do not over-promise to make up for poor productivity. There’s a tendency when we’re falling behind to try to overcompensate with future promises. ”When I’m done, it’ll be AWESOME” or “I know I’m late, but I’m positive I’ll be done by Monday”. By doing those things we just build more debt we can’t pay off, and that will eventually lead to a catastrophic melt down when the super final absolutely last deadline date shows up.
Read all eight ways to fix your productivity here.
Related Reading: Get Over Yourself: How Your Ego Sabotages Your Creativity
For many creatives, finding new clients can be challenging, and well, a real drag when all we want to do is work on our next masterpiece. Alex Mathers of Red Lemon Club developed a list of 50 ways for creative people to land clients. A creator himself, the list is both practical and creative-centric. Here are a few of his suggestions:
10. Shoot a behind the scenes film of your workspace and share it online.
15. Give a free talk on something that would truly benefit your target prospects and encourage people to connect with you at the end.
32. Create a free web-zine using collaborative writers on a topic of interest to prospects that generates leads for all of you.
34. Create a written tutorial on something you’re uniquely good at and share it online.
We have to face the facts: creatives, we’re also business people. Luckily, we have a unique advantage: creative energy that we can harness to land clients in innovative ways that align with our strengths. What better time than now to pick a new tactic from Mathers’ list and implement it with creative gusto?
Research over the last decade has shown that there are proven methods for sparking creative insights. If you want to be more creative, author and researcher Jonah Lehrer explains at The Wall Street Journal, you’ll simply need to coax your brain into it. Lehrer gives us 10 tips on how to do just that, here are some of our favorites:
Get Groggy: According to a study published last month, people at their least alert time of day—think of a night person early in the morning—performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%.
Daydream Away: Research led by Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that people who daydream more score higher on various tests of creativity.
Think Like A Child: When subjects are told to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds, they score significantly higher on tests of divergent thinking, such as trying to invent alternative uses for an old car tire.
Laugh It Up: When people are exposed to a short video of stand-up comedy, they solve about 20% more insight puzzles.
While creativity has been viewed as magical concept for centuries, research like that Lehrer points to shows that it’s little more than a series of cognitive tools our brains use to solve problems. Learning how to hone those skills (as Lehrer explains) means we can spark it in ourselves and our work whenever we need it most.
In filmmaker Werner Herzog’s book A Guide for the Perplexed, he describes his ideation process and how he selects which concept to develop first:
The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence.
When Herzog is overwhelmed with ideas, he selects the concept most avid in his mind. From there he works it until completion before moving on. He describes finishing a project like having a weight lifted from his shoulders. It’s not necessarily happiness, but an ease of ending one thing before starting the next. However your ideas find you, make sure you finish through to completion – whether that means writing it down in a notebook or following it through to realization.
When we see the impressive work of others, it’s tempting to change our game plan to follow theirs in our fear of being left behind. However, Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, has learned that due to unique passions, skills and experience, we each have our own path to follow. Henry advises embracing the motto of one of his runner friends:
…the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.
Don’t sacrifice your drive because you are comparing your work-in-progress with someone else’s finished product. As Henry states, “Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s.”
Over at LinkedIn, entrepreneur James Caan gives us five important traits to have if you want to stand out in your career, including:
There is an old saying that says if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, and this is especially true in career terms. Are you somebody who is happy with your current skill set, or do you actively look to improve? If it is the latter, then you are exactly the sort of person most bosses look for…
There is nothing better for a manager than to see his or her employees actively taking ownership of projects. Equally, nobody wants to be seen as someone who passes the buck. If something falls under your remit, ensure you are the one who sees it through…
By having this ability to reflect – and sometimes criticize yourself – you are making sure lessons are learnt every step of the way.
What each of the traits Caan shares have in common is primarily related to personal drive. Those who are successful in their careers have the momentum to take full accountability and control of their efforts. Though, if they don’t have the momentum they need, they create it through self-reflection and focus.
Research indicates that we defer working on things based on how distant we perceive their deadlines. When we decide that something falls into the “future” category, we simply file it in our “someday” folder and eventually those goals are neglected. Unfortunately, that which is important is often inversely proportional to what’s urgent. To move priorities out of our “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines:
Establish “now” deadlines. Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach – like saving enough money for retirement – you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”