June 4, 2021

Like trying to explain how water tastes

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Our productivity issues often go back to our misguided sense of proportion.

The reason everything bothers us and nothing gets done is because our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.

We underestimate how long tasks will take to accomplish, and we overestimate the impact that that work will have on our bodies and minds. To quote my dad’s favorite business mantra, you can’t eat like an elephant and shit like a bird.

What we need is a deeper awareness of our own limitations. Which is sadly something we can only learn through time and experience.

If you’ve ever worked in an office where everyone was just out of college, you can relate. Humility is not a standard issue emotion for recent graduates, and so, productivity is almost always an issue for them.

Dalio writes in his bestselling book about principles that humility typically comes from an experience of crashing, which leads to an enlightened focus on know what we don’t know.

Have you ever been so unproductive that you crashed? Bet that changed the way you approached work going forward, right?

I’ve had coworkers who would complain on a daily basis about their inability to focus at work, and every time my answer was split.

Part of me wanted to fix their obvious problem with simple solutions.

Distracted by your phone? Disable all notifications.
Noisy office and coworkers? Put on your headphones or ask to move desks.
Too much social media? Block those websites from your browser.
Excessive meetings? Start declining invites and see if anyone even notices.
Too many communication platforms? Embrace the joy of missing out and keep your head down.

That alone will save ten hours a week, minimum. And that doesn’t even include all the time you’ll save by not bitching anymore.

The other part of me always wants to respond to people’s complaining with compassion and confirmation, as any good mentor would do.

That sounds hard. Being distracted sucks. You’ll figure it out in time. Keep me posted on your progress.

When it comes to individual people’s productivity, this type of response is about the best you can hope for. Trying to teach someone how to be more productive is like trying to explain how water tastes. Your company can call the meetings, and put up signs, and even attend workshops on time management, but the bottom line is, this is a deeply personal issue that takes years if not decades to resolve.

If you work with someone whose eyes are bigger than their stomach, the only way they’re going to learn how to stop eating like and elephant and shitting like a bird is to crash into the wall.

The pain is brutal, but it’s funny how a good concussion can make you rethink your priorities.

What helped you overcome your misguided sense of proportion?

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