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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

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