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
Whereas brands used to push their products and messages out in what was essentially a one-way conversation, the social web has transformed it into a two-way conversation. Which means that we have to learn to speak authentically and honestly to our customers, and that we can’t hide when we make mistakes.
To learn how to deftly navigate this new dynamic, we chatted up one of the most talked-about brands on the social web—Warby Parker, the eyeglasses-cum-lifestyle brand that has been a mad success from day one. Here, co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal breaks down how to be okay with leading a brand that you can’t totally control:
What’s the best way to go about being “proactive” when something goes wrong?
I think it goes back to transparency. The first thing to do is admit it. Explain what happened and apologize. Your customers can be very understanding provided that you enable them to be understanding, which means that you need to have an honest discussion with them and fess up when you make a mistake.
For instance, think about if you call any of our favorite cell phone carriers. [laughs] It used to be that they were just rude and didn’t solve your problem. Now, they’re often polite, but they still don’t solve your problems. So, they’re getting a little bit better, but you still want to break your phone in half after one of those conversations.
So being polite and friendly and apologizing is part of it. But it’s just the first part. Then you have to actually correct the situation. For us, that might be offering a discount, it might be offering free glasses, it might be doing whatever it takes to get that person a pair of glasses before they go on vacation. It’s the little things that make a brand great. It’s about being diligent with details, keeping your antennae sensitive to what customers want, and responding in a way that’s authentic to your brand. It sounds intuitive, but the fact is that many brands are not treating their customers the way they want to be treated.
Do you think the dynamic of the social web means there’s more of an interplay between customers and brands than there’s been in the past? Can brands still control the conversation?
I was talking to Troy Carter—an investor who also used to be Lady Gaga’s manager—the other day, and he made a really interesting observation. We were discussing Warby Parker, and he said, “It’s not your brand; it’s our brand.” “Our” being the public. And I think he’s right: You do not control your brand anymore. You can influence it and help guide the conversation, but there’s a limit to how precisely you can define your brand on your own.
This idea that a brand will conform to a nice PowerPoint presentation with a strict brand architecture and messaging hierarchy is no longer the case. Your brand is part of conversations that are being had in the streets, on Twitter, and on Instagram. And the best that you can do is help influence that dialogue by giving people reasons to talk positively about it. These days, your community managers are your brand managers.
This is an excerpt from 99U’s new book, Make Your Mark, which features 21 essays and interviews on building a creative business with impact.
Renowned author Stephen King, who has published 49 novels that have sold over 350 million copies, writes at least ten pages each day. As a creative person, you’ve experienced writer’s block, even if you’re not necessarily a writer; software engineers, artists, or anyone that has to create things for a living is susceptible. We also all know the well-trodden advice of practicing even for just a little bit, at least once a day — But how does one actually stick to it?
Product Manager at Twitter, Buster Benson, recently created 750words.com to help us break through writer’s block and open up our creative passages. He uses a rewards system to keep on track (much like the famous Jerry Seinfeld calendar-method). The idea is simple:
Every month you get a clean bowling-esque score card. If you write anything at all, you get 1 point. If you write 750 words or more, you get 2 points. If you write two, three or more days in a row, you get even more points. How I see it, points can motivate. It’s fun to try to stay on streaks and the points are a way to play around with that. You can also see how others are doing points-wise if you’re at all competitive that way.
Benson shares his inspiration:
I’ve long been inspired by an idea I first learned about in The Artist’s Way called morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of writing done every day, typically encouraged to be in “long hand”, typically done in the morning, that can be about anything and everything that comes into your head. It’s about getting it all out of your head, and is not supposed to be edited or censored in any way.
The idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day. Unlike many of the other exercises in that book, I found that this one actually worked and was really really useful.
By writing 750 words a day, or 50 lines of code, or a page of illustrations every morning, you’re turning the act of creating into a habit. A creative block isn’t worn down by worrying or procrastinating; it can only be broken by trying.
Make Your Mark, our new business book for makers (not managers!) launches this week. It’s our third book in the 99U book series, which offers pragmatic, actionable advice for managing your time, your career, and your business. You can order the book here.
To celebrate, we’re giving away three Kindle Paperwhite eReader devices pre-loaded with all three 99U books. (Not to mention a totally sweet carrying case that looks like the cover of Make Your Mark.)
To enter, tweet your favorite piece of startup wisdom for creatives in the next 24 hours with this link and hashtag: amazon.com/99u #makeyourmark
We’ll pick three winners at random on Monday, and ship them their snazzy Kindle eReaders.
Visual artist Koosje Koene says that when it comes to creating, you have to be jump right in. In an interview with The People Project, she explains her creative process:
I am a do-er, if that’s a word. If I have an idea, I like to execute it, create it, or at least start planning the project. In Art School, we talked a lot about ideas, the ideas behind the ideas, and so on. It made me feel less enthusiastic about starting a project, since the idea wasn’t fresh anymore. All the thinking sort of sucked the passion and excitement out of me, and that showed in the results. In a bad way.
When a new idea hits, we should take advantage of that initial passion and excitement and jump right in. If we spend too much time thinking, the concept begins to fade and you lose the creative momentum. After the initial burst of creativity, we can always take a step back and do some evaluating. Get out of your head and create.
10,000 hours notwithstanding, practice doesn’t make perfect unless the way you practice is perfect.
In last week’s issue of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki explores the recent “performance revolution” in sports, and how that approach to improvement has also raised the bar in business:
[T]he way to improve the way you perform is to improve the way you train. High performance isn’t, ultimately, about running faster, throwing harder, or leaping farther. It’s about something much simpler: getting better at getting better.
Thanks to more sophisticated technology, ultra-individualized training, and “the mainstreaming of excellent habits,” athletes are working not only harder than ever but smarter than ever—and so goes for a range of other fields in which performance improvement is self-controlled and measurable, from manufacturing and airline safety to higher education and business.
For example, Japanese elementary school math teachers train rigorously, before and throughout their careers:
They’ve developed a vocabulary to describe successful teaching tactics. They spend hours talking about how to improve things… in a way that helps students learn. And they get constant feedback from other teachers and mentors. This method—with its systematic approach to learning, its emphasis on preparation, and its relentless focus on small details and the need for constant feedback—sounds like the way athletes train today.
With data analysis available for everyone these days, there’s no reason not to track your data (even if it seems fairly basic: amount of sleep, time of day, etc.) and experiment with your process in order to improve upon it. Whatever your field, cultivating a methodical, focused approach to advancement could have the most impact on your growth.
While talking to people who do a superhuman job at managing their time, founder and investor Bill Trenchard discovered that one of the most common ways they avoid wasting time is by simply saying “no.”
As your [work] becomes more prominent, you’re only going to get more of everything. More people reaching out through LinkedIn, email, invitations to connect, to go to coffee, to ask for a favor. It’s death by paper cuts. Inevitably, a childhood acquaintance from 20 years ago who you can barely remember will ask you for introductions to all your influential friends at Facebook. This is when you have to say, “No.” Saying no is so hard. It’s hard because you want to pay it forward. So many people have helped you. You want to do the same. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and there are ways to make it easier.
He suggests using templates; canned responses for all the common situations where you might find yourself saying no. Here’s an example:
Great to hear from you. I hope all is well. Fortunately, my company is starting to take off, and I’m under extreme pressure to deliver against some ambitious goals… Unfortunately [I'm not] able to connect right now.
What’s unique about this response is that it blocks further communication. Do it nicely in a way that truthfully explains the situation, but don’t leave things open-ended.
Saying no (when respectful and structured ) deflects distractions and ensures that the right projects are completed. The creative process is paralyzed when you are juggling things that you wish you never committed to. Guard your time from things that don’t warrant your immediate attention or are counterproductive.