I try to stay on the positive side of looking for ways to live a meaningful life.
I picked up an idea from an interesting English writer—Oliver Burkeman who writes The Imperfectionist blog and wrote the influential book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.
Let’s say you go to a nice restaurant. They show you to a table. You and your guest are seated. They hand you an elegantly printed menu. You look over all the options presented and choose. Perhaps you choose an appetizer to start dinner. Then you choose a salad, an entré, and a dessert. Perhaps a bottle of wine to complement the meal.
Now, let’s change the venue. You are at your desk. You need to decide what to do next. You look at your to do list. You know, that list that never stops growing thanks to email and Slack and other computerized incoming enemies.
Do you just take the top item? Do it? Check it off? Then look at the next thing?
Do you look at the list and panic at its size?
How about your email? You read about “inbox zero” but know that it is an unachievable vision of heaven.
Burkeman suggests looking at these things like a menu. Ah, I’m presented with a fine list of options. Which shall I work on now? I will select this one first as an appetizer. Later I’ll select the entré.
Thank you, Oliver. Somehow I feel a little better about the whole productivity thing.
I bought into the microfinance system almost 20 years ago. An avid reader at the time of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog, I joined his group lending $25 to people around the world to support their nascent businesses. We used Kiva.
For many years, repayments came in regularly, and I would re-loan the money. I don’t know when I first noticed that the loans were not going to people but to organizations. And the repayments became infrequent. It would be months before one of my $25 loans was repaid in order for me to loan again.
Meanwhile there came a barrage of daily (or more often) emails from Kiva to loan more.
I was growing suspicious. Didn’t know why. But something had changed.
I also started to read little snippets about microfinance not always working.
Then came this article in MIT Technology Review. What happened to the microfinance organization Kiva? A group of strikers argue that the organization seems more focused on making money than creating change. Are they right? By Mara Kardas-Nelsonarchive.
“The Kiva users noticed that the changes happened as compensation to Kiva’s top employees increased dramatically. In 2020, the CEO took home over $800,000. Combined, Kiva’s top 10 executives made nearly $3.5 million in 2020. In 2021, nearly half of Kiva’s revenue went to staff salaries.”
Despite this income, Kiva turned over CEOs almost as fast as the Cleveland Browns turn over quarterbacks.
All this to suggest that we all need to reevaluate our processes and patterns periodically. Sometimes our path had turned into a rut leading somewhere we don’t wish to be.
This works for leadership, as well. It is good to have people question processes from time-to-time. The process that worked ten years ago may be detrimental today.
Some economists and journalists looking for a passing story bemoaned statistics revealing a lack of productivity increase over a stated period of time.
Is this really a problem?
Whatever your job, whether in a business or church or other organization, do you feel that you have productivity metrics?
- Number of meetings attended
- Number of memos sent
- Number of articles written
Maybe what is more important is fewer meetings that actually accomplish an objective. Maybe it is effective communication that clearly explains or motivates change. Maybe something written with more depth and less gloss.
Are you working on a really big and juicy problem? Those take time to solve. That may not look good on your productivity chart. It may be really important work.
I picked up this list from a tweet by one of my favorite modern writers, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He wrote Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, among other books. This is one of those lists you can tape above your desk and contemplate often.
TRUE WEALTH (2nd Ed)
- Worriless sleeping
- Clear conscience
- Reciprocal gratitude
- Absence of envy
- Foamy coffee
- Crusty bread
- Inexperienced enemies
- Frequent laughs
- No meals alone
- No gym classes
- Gravel bicycling
- Good digestive functions
- No Zoom meetings
- Periodic surprises
- Nothing to hide: financial and fiscal tranquility
- Muscular strength & endurance
- Ability to nap
- Access to a hammock
Note: That was from a tweet, as on Twitter. By the time you read this, Twitter may be X. Elon Musk seems to think X is a manly character. He says he’s changing the name of the service this week. Some people have more money than sense.
A group of academic psychology researchers conducted a longitudinal study of children. It wasn’t long term, but did take place over a time period. They were curious about growth versus static mindset. A task was given to a group of kids. Some kids were given feedback that involved verbs—you worked well, you did your practice consistently, and so forth. Another group was given noun feedback—you are so smart, you are a good athlete, and so forth.
Later, the kids were given a similar task. The ones praised with nouns, did not perform better. The ones praised with verbs continued to improve.
I’m standing on the mezzanine at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont, IL. Soon competition at the Illinois club state finals will commence. I brought my granddaughter who made the 800 meter freestyle relay team for her club that qualified from the regional championships. There must be hundreds of young athletes here who have worked hard all season in order to qualify to be here.
Starting at the beginning of the season when as a younger person in her age group she didn’t think she had a shot at the regionals. I told her every week, just be a little better this week than last. I praised her work. And at the end of the season she swam in eight events at the regionals. I’m sure all of the other swimmers have a similar story.
How do you feel in your professional life or your personal life? How are you treating youth or colleagues?
Maybe you see an opportunity that you can grow a little at a time. Don’t believe the media hype of overnight success. “Overnight success” almost always comes after a period of work—one percent better over time. Are you mentoring someone younger? I hope so. Don’t tell them they are great. Tell them you appreciate their hard work or willingness to learn new things. Work on your relationships at home and at work. One percent better every day.
Practice. 1% better every day. Check in at the end of a month or a year. I can tell you from personal experience—it works.
Is what you are doing—in your organization, workplace, family, community—significant work?
- Does it make a positive change in the world?
- A positive change in some other human being?
- A positive change in you?
As a leader, are you providing people with significant work? Or, just busy work? Maybe the work we’ve always done (and never thought about why)?
What significant work can you (and I) do beginning now that will make a difference?