Many days, others want you. Other days, you are needed; your actions are vital and the wheels turn about you. Then there are the few days when no one cares what you do. These are the days when you stand apart.
You capitalise on some breathing space, not by taking a breather, but by doing the things that matter beyond the end of today, past the end of this week.
This body of work; the things that you do when no one is waiting or watching, will become your legacy. These are the things that you will be proud of. And this work will determine your value.
You should care if you do nothing at work today.
When I was a kid, I loved photography. Loved the way the camera mimicked the eye. A machine that imitates the body. Camera is to eye like computer is to brain. Composition particularly intrigued me; the way you framed a photograph defined its aesthetic and the context shaped its tone. You could explain your point of view to the ‘reader’ of the picture.
One of my favourite exercises, set by my photography teacher, Mr Brenker, was to find an ordinary still-life object and abstract it using composition – however you chose…focus, zoom, aperture settings. It was fantastic to make a beautiful, unrecognisable “new” image of something familiar. It is possible to get so close to a subject that you can’t tell what it is anymore.
And so the same phenomenon occurs when we deal with people… sometimes we’re so close that we can’t tell what we’re looking at. We can make better sense of the world by taking the photographer’s approach. Zoom in, zoom out, focus and refocus or change the change angle for a clearer understanding of the situation we are in.
It was hot yesterday so…not too sensibly, I waited until the middle of the afternoon to mow the lawn.
It didn’t take more than the slightest effort (walking 10metres to the shed) for the sweat stain on my straw hat to start spreading. Forty minutes later I was really flagging. I stopped briefly for brow-wipe and a drink from the hose. It was really hot, and dusty. Then back to the mower which, suddenly, I could not move.
There was a small sharp stone wedged under my front wheel. I was intent on pushing over it but I didn’t have the power. But I kept shoving anyway and got hotter and more annoyed. My heat-aadled brain was unable to grasp the obvious option… pull back and get some momentum.
That stone was my broken excel formula, my failing email communication with my difficult client, my presentation that wasn’t humming. Sometimes shoving madly forward gets you nowhere. But a pause and some renewed momentum usually does the trick. Roll. Bump. And you’re over that little stone.
Get up some real speed and nothing will stop you.
Years ago I had a serious crack at writing fiction. One of my teachers, the late Laurie Clancy (pictured) was an old school Australian short story writer and critic. He was possessed of a warm, serious, funny and sad narrative tone and he had a face to match. Amongst the many insights Laurie imparted, “show me, don’t tell me” has stayed with me and remains a powerful metaphor for life beyond fiction writing.
To give your characters life, you must show their actions to your reader. By only telling, you omit evidence, you forfeit richness and create doubt about the believability of your characters. Each exposition and development must be illustrated, not simply told. Think Hamlet’s slide into madness, Ahab’s escalating vengeance against That Whale or Raskolnikov’s delusions of grandeur as he plots his Crimes, before Punishment.
We observe those characters by their actions just as our observations of those around us powerfully inform our view of them, beyond what they merely say. Clancy’s advice is never truer than when we pursue credibility in our work. We must make action our central narrative device. Our deeds and successes must be shown, not just told.
Acronyms are lazy. We should be making more effort to be convey rich meaning, not less.
In business, precise expression and meaning are vital.
When we compress our words into new groups to make codes, we flatten our tone, communalise ourselves and render ourselves less individual. We make our language and expression less precise and more open to interpretation.
Like a joke that needs explaining, an acronym that requires decoding is POOR (caps for emphasis, not an acronym…as far as I know) communication. It obscures meaning, distracts from the message and corrupts our purpose.
Put some grain, colour and accentuation into your language. What you say and write will be memorable because it will better convey life’s many folds.
Zero Follow Ups…is a really powerful guide to your ability to manage yourself.
It’s simple, practical, fast and measurable. Your own little self-assessment tool.
Just score yourself a point every time some one follows you up on something…client, colleague, report or boss.
If you aim for zero every week and come close, you’re doing well. Better still, the measure itself will really focus you on delivering for the people that matter to you.
I have absolutely no empirical evidence of this but I think, if you walk fast, you get more done. Not because you move from one place to another quicker but, as you speed up your body, you promote urgency and action.
Dawdling along is nice. It’s comfortable and requires no deliberate effort. Whereas fast-walking requires purposeful action, energy and mindfulness. It’s harder work.
If you make fast-walking your default, it becomes a proxy for energetic work and you are guaranteed to feel more active and get more done. You’ll think better while you’re walking and, once you get to where you’re going, you’ll fast-work your way to super-productivity.
Ditch dawdling at work and try fast-walking today.
I’ve been thinking a little about hard work.
We all work hard right? The usual definition of long hours usually comes to mind. Fine…but you can’t build a competitive advantage by putting in more time. Anyone can decide to work longer hours and do it – low barriers to entry – no particular skill required (other than say, maintaining effectiveness as hours on the job build).
So how can you work harder in unusual ways to get a true advantage which is hard to copy?
Try working difficult.
It’s a subtle but important variation on working hard. Working difficult goes to the heart of what it means to create value. You choose to do the work that others avoid, you choose to do the work that requires thinking but you do not choose the path of least resistance.