Forget Productivity Hacks – Just Do The Work

The self-help world is filled with ‘hacks’ to optimise our personal effectiveness. All of them rest of the dubious notion that we should override our in-the-moment judgment in favor of deliberate strategies or techniques.

To the common advice that we should focus on high-leveraged tasks that play to our strengths, while delegating those that don’t.

The idea makes logical sense, but implementing it is a different story.

In the early years of my business, for example, I bent myself into pretzels to delegate tasks to assistants and contractors, but since my business too young, I did not have a good sense of what or how to delegate. It felt forced and stressful, so I ended up retrenching and starting from scratch.

Eventually, I abandoned all concepts and started just doing needed doing, as best as I could manage. And that is what took my business to a place where hiring and delegating began to make sense.

From a performance standpoint, all of us are at our best when we immerse ourselves with a mind that’s relatively free of clutter and over-thinking. In that state, we bring a powerful instinctive living intelligence to our work.

That intelligence is responsive to the needs of the moment, it learns and adapts, it makes connections and generates fresh ideas, it brings us what we need to respond to what’s at hand. And it’s all automatic and built in.

Self-management strategies interfere with that intelligence. They fill our mind with clutter, blunt our instincts and reduce our effectiveness.

Am I focusing on a strength? Is this in my zone of genius? Should do more of this or less of that? No. We are not designed to live that way. What’s worse, it’s counter-productive.

Now that I have a team, what I delegate is part of the flow of judgment calls I make all day long. An instinctive sense of my own strengths and weaknesses and where to focus my time is built into those judgments by default, without any extra analysis on my part.

Strategies have us fumbling with self-management, instead of immersing ourselves in the work.  And it’s the work that makes the difference.

Of course, we all get stuck in our heads and experience doubt and uncertainty. We got through periods of being unsure how to proceed. We linger over decisions or question our own judgments.

That’s all perfectly normal and part of the process. So long as we stay in the game, our intelligence will help steer us through the rough patches.

Success may look in retrospect like it comes from applying formulas or techniques. That idea gets reinforced by well-meaning people who reflect on their accomplishments and offer some kind of roadmap to ease our path.

But in truth, our roadmap can only come from within, through personal engagement in our work. Progress may follow trends and patterns, but we can’t reverse engineer it. We have to live it from the inside-out.

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