For many people, work consists of a series of urgencies. Set them up and knock them down. Empty the in-box, answer the boss, make the deadline.
Over the next few weeks, there may be fewer urgencies than usual. That’s the nature of coming back from a break.
What if we used the time to move system deficiencies from the “later” pile to the “it’s essential to do this right now” pile?
Improving a system returns our effort many times over.
Fix your supply chain. Dig deep into your communication rhythms. Figure out the priority list. Quit the tasks that are holding you back. Walk away from dead ends. Add rigor to your processes. Understand the difference between the things that feel urgent and those that are truly important.
None of this works if you do it temporarily. The point is to create and fix systems with finality. Identify a class of projects that your team will do instead of you and then never do them again. Reorganize your data archiving approach and then stick with it. Build a system for lifelong learning and then maintain the commitment.
In any given moment, an urgency that feels like an emergency gives us the permission to abandon our systems and simply dive in and fix it, as only we can. And this permission is precisely why we get stuck, precisely why the next urgency is likely to appear tomorrow.
Resolutions don’t work. Habits and systems can.
Most of us are so stuck on the short-cycles of urgency that it’s difficult to even imagine changing our longer-term systems.
Amazingly, this simple non-hack (in which you spend the time to actually avoid the shortcuts that have been holding you back) might be the single most effective work you do all year.
For no really good reason, I filmed this long riff about my experience with the early days of video and adventure games. Probably more 1980s game history than you wanted to know.
Rewatching them, I’m reminded of how many lucky breaks I’ve had, how often I got the benefit of the doubt and how being in the right place at the right time can change so much.
Alas, I didn’t mention many of the people who did the extraordinary work of programming, of organizational development and of believing in possibility. I’m grateful to have worked next to hundreds of people who spent years battling the odds to invent the future.
Cleaning out the fridge after a power failure, I found three half-empty containers of anchovies. Because they magically migrate to the back of the fridge, every time I had needed some, I ended up opening a new jar, because the old ones were invisible. Not just invisible if I had looked for them, but so invisible that it never even occurred to me to look for them.
And this is even more likely to happen with the data on your hard drive. If you don’t know to look for it, if you don’t believe it’s there, it might as well be deleted.
And of course, this applies to our lost skills, confidence and experience as well.
It’s worth putting in regular effort to remind ourselves of what we’ve already got and how it has served us in the past.
It also knows that people like points, likes and something that feels like popularity.
The social media companies optimized their algorithms for profit. And profit, they figured, would come from engagement. And engagement, they figured, would come from confounding our instincts and rewarding outrage.
Because outrage draws a crowd.
And crowds establish culture.
And a desire to be the leader of a crowd reinforced the cycle.
And so the social networks created a game, a game in which you ‘win’ by being notorious, outrageous or, as they coined the phrase, “authentic.” The whole world is watching, if you’re willing to put on a show.
That’s not how the world actually works. The successful people in your community or your industry (please substitute ‘happy’ for successful in that sentence) don’t act the way the influencers on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook do. That’s all invented, amplified stagecraft, it’s not the actual human condition.
Many of us have an overwhelming need to rubberneck, to slow down when we pass a crash on the highway. This is odd, as most people don’t go out of their way to visit the morgue, just for kicks. And yet…
I hope we’d agree that if people started staging car crashes on the side of the road to get attention, we’d be outraged.
That’s what happening, and the leaders of social networks pretend that they can’t do a thing about it, just as Google pretends that they can’t control the results of their search algorithm.
The shift that the leaders of the social networks need to make is simple. In the long run, it will cost them nothing. And within weeks, it will create a world that’s calmer, happier and more productive.
Amplify possibility. Dial down the spread of disinformation, trolling and division. Make it almost impossible to get famous at the expense of civilization. Embrace the fact that breaking news doesn’t have to be the rhythm of our days. Reward thoughtfulness and consistency and responsibility.