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
Approaching any big project can be a daunting and complex experience. Over on her blog, author Elizabeth Spann Craig gives us nine quick tips for tackling big projects, ensuring that we finish what we set out to do.
Show up. Religiously. It’s the only way to get through a project.
Avoid perfectionism….First drafts aren’t perfect either. But aren’t they better than the blank page?
Craig highlights the importance of finishing what you set-out to do before looking for ways to improve or change the concept. She calls this avoiding tangents:
Avoid going off on tangents….Wait until the project itself is done. For me, it works best for writing, too–I don’t edit/fix stuff until the first draft is completely done.
In her list, Craig also mentions the value of remembering the small victories as you go, emphasizing how motivating it can be to reflect on even the smallest of steps. She writes:
Fight the overwhelm….Remember how far we’ve come since the start of our project. If this is a home improvement or organizing project, it helps to take a picture of the “before,” just to remind us. If its writing–remember that blank page the first words we once wrote down.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with big projects, no matter what type they are. To cope, consider reading Craig’s brief advice and remember to set goals, work with a timer, avoid perfectionism, skip tangents (for now), and more.
Read all of the advice right here.
The first day back from vacation is the hardest: switching from beaches and cocktail umbrellas to an office chair and emails can be a jarring experience, especially if one of your first priorities is to get the inbox from 600 to 0.
Fortunately, Levo League offers a better way to deal with emails post-vacation: read them backwards.
Start from the most recent to the oldest so that you don’t waste your time (and annoy the people who took your load while you were out) by answering old emails that were already addressed and completed. The last thing you want is to spend time spinning your wheels only to realize that the question/issue you were working on solving for an hour and a half was already handled by the time you get to email 1,000.
Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Powers of Two, speaks about the advantages of competitive collaboration in an article for The Atlantic. His famous example is that of The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and John Lennon who would regularly “answer” each others’ songs in friendly competition. When John wrote “Strawberry Fields,” Paul came back with “Penny Lane.” Paul notes that the competition made them “better and better all the time,” and created a creative tension.
Despite the tension—because of the tension—the work was magnificent. Though the White Album recording sessions were often tense and unpleasant (Emerick disliked them so much that he flat-out quit), they yielded an album that is among the best in music history.
The Beatles’ producer George Martin described the relationship as “two people pulling on a rope, smiling at each other and pulling all the time with all their might.” Not only did their competition create tension, but their contrasting personalities added to it as well. Paul was meticulous, diplomatic, and polite, while John could be chaotic, impatient, and rebellious. Although completely different, they complemented each other perfectly. As John’s first wife Cynthia Lennon observed:
John needed Paul’s attention to detail and persistence. Paul needed John’s anarchic, lateral thinking.
Although tension can foster creative productivity, remember to surround it with sufficient support and shared passions.
Creatives are subject to high levels of rejection. Even though companies seek out innovative individuals, they seldom listen to their new ideas due to the risk involved. Fortunately, research suggests that rejection may actually help – not hinder – the creative process. Rejection hurts, but if there is no pain, then there is no gain. In an article for Slate, illustrator Jessica Olien explains:
Perhaps for some people, the pain of rejection is like the pain of training for a marathon – training the mind for endurance. Research shows you’ll need it. Truly creative ideas take a very long time to be accepted. The better the idea, the longer it might take. Even the work of Nobel Prize winners was commonly rejected by their peers for an extended period of time.
Social rejection can be liberating. Once you know you don’t fit in, you can concentrate your energy on your creative projects as oppose to stressing about what others think. Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.” Just be sure you know when to push through and when you should call it quits.
Now in its 40th anniversary, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has emerged as an initial force behind many creatives’ success. As a piece in the New York Times explains:
Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play. . .
“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”
But the skills learned through play go deeper than narrative writing:
What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”
If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)
If an acquaintance, or someone you’re just not that close enough to, asks for a job recommendation that you feel uncomfortable giving, New York Magazine suggests you try one of the following “humanely disingenuous” approaches:
1. Respond enthusiastically with information of limited value: “Would it help if I gave you the name of the human-resources person? I think I might even have his e-mail!”
2. Issue a self-deprecating disclaimer of helplessness: “I don’t know how much my word counts on this one . . . ”
3. Technically do the favor, but warn off the prospective employer either explicitly or between the lines: “An acquaintance of mine is looking for something. I’ve known him ever since we went to Bennington! He dropped out though.”
If they take the next step in asking you why they didn’t get picked or why you won’t personally recommend them, remember that no one can get better without feedback — just make sure you give them criticism without being critical.