I’d rather do less work than do bad work. – Sobhita Dhulipala
Every once in a while I get to the point where there is too much on, it feels like there are quite a lot of things to do and deliver. And when this happens it’s worth remembering that not everything matters. As Robert Fulghum sort of said, “If it’s not worth doing, it’s not worth doing well.”
You can have too much of a good thing. Overtrading is a thing, where you bring in so much business that you go bust. If everyone wants what you want it can kill your business. Tim Ferriss writes about how he’s careful who he recommends because if he finds someone who sells something good and talks about it on his podcast, his millions of followers try and buy it as well and crash the company’s website as a result.
If you do a great job at work your reward will, most likely, be more work. It’s the same with most things. When you watch people in films they’re driven, competitive, trying to be the best they can be, working all the hours they have. And that looks good but it’s a bad strategy. Research into the way the brain works tells us that you’re better off doing something for half an hour and then waiting a day before trying again than doing it all day, pushing yourself to get better. It’s when you sleep that your brain processes learning and helps strengthen the neural patterns associated with what you’re trying to do or the skill you’re trying to develop.
Okay, now if you’re busy what’s the best way to deal with all the things on your list? This is where the book Algorithms to live by has some suggestions – and it depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
Let’s say you have a list of tasks and you just want to get them done. Well, in that case order is irrelevant. Just do them one after the other until they’re all done.
Now, what if you want to do the biggest number of things – tick off a bunch quickly? Then you order them by the amount of time they take – shortest to longest and blast through them. If you want to get them done so that they’re not late, then do them in order of due date.
An interesting problem comes up when you want to have the least number of people shouting at you. In that case, you start by ordering by the due date and if one task is going to be late you drop that one if you can’t get help and move on to the next. That one task might be very late but the rest will be on time.
If you’ve had a late parcel during the pandemic this is probably why. Bad weather and staffing issues have probably cause a delay. Should the post office deliver delayed packages first and then do the rest or just get on with the newest? Someone told me about the phrase “toss it over the pile” – which is what probably happened. The ones that are late were already late, but if they were delivered first then everyone else’s parcels would be delayed. It’s better to have a small group of furious customers than have the entire population irritated by constant late deliveries. Wouldn’t you make the same choice?
Now, when you’ve scheduled everything and still are struggling, what you have left is the option to do less – to reduce scope. If you normally do ten things can you get away with two? What is essential and can you deliver just that, leaving the rest for later or, even better, never?
When it comes to life the best tasks to do are the ones you don’t have. If you don’t have clutter in your office you don’t have to tidy it away. If you don’t have “stuff” everywhere you don’t need space to put it or have a struggle finding it. The problem many of us have is not one of scarcity but one of abundance. We have too much to deal with. And the way to happiness is to have less and do less – but do it better.