Right now, you may be feeling a little stressed. That stress is mostly coming from trying to do too many things, and not getting satisfaction from doing them as good as you can.
To change that you will have to learn how to say ‘No’ to things. Saying ‘No’ will allow you to have more time to do things well. You can’t do everything to the best of your talent. But you can do a few things to your highest ability.
To do your best work, you have to choose what you are going to be crap at. For me, it was email.
Instead of replying to emails, I spend my time on things that will push my businesses forward. My return on my time invested is greater there. Yes, I will miss some important emails, and therefore opportunities. But that is a small opportunity cost of doing your best work.
The busy fool doesn’t lack effort. But focus.
Also, accept that multitasking is a lie. Multi-tasking relies on you giving partial attention to many things. That is not a formula for doing great work. Multitasking is the delivery method for average work. Avoid.
To do your best work, you have to give it all your attention.
We live in a world with more distractions than ever in the history of the planet. The smartphone is the ultimate attention seeker.
“We check our smartphone 221 times a day.”
But to do your best work, you have to commit all your attention to it. And to do so for long periods of uninterrupted time. To do your best work, you will have to become ruthless at blocking out distractions.
“A goldfish attention span is 9 seconds. And as from 2015, a human is 8 seconds.”
Cal Newport has written an important book called ‘Deep Work’. Its essence is you need to find 2–3 hours each day without Wi-Fi, without your phone, and make that a habit of how you go about your work as part of your daily routine. Deep work will deliver you to a state that allows you to do your best work.
That 2–3-hour discipline each day will be worth more than other people’s 8 hours. They may be working longer, but they will be doing shallow work. They will be distracted by gossip in the open-plan office, by an email that has just arrived, by a great photo on Instagram.
When you are doing shallow work, you can’t solve difficult problems. Your best work will require you to overcome difficulty. Your best work will stretch you, push you, find your very limits. This work requires focus, not distraction.
For every distraction we get caught up in, it takes us another 20 minutes or so to get back into the flow of where we left. Distractions leave a residue, which is why it takes so much time to regain our focus.
To do your best work, you will have to replace distractions with focus.
We want it tomorrow. Amazon Prime has taught us impatience. Order before 9 pm and it’s there in the morning. Drones will deliver one day within the hour.
But to build your reputation will take time. To grow your business will take time. To hone your skills that will one day deliver your best work, will take time too. There are no short cuts.
But there is a way to make learning less efficient, and that is to learn while distracted. It takes longer. And the skill levels are reduced. For things to sink in, we have to give them all our attention.
Most people don’t ever do their best work because they give up before they have mastered all the skills required to do it. Malcolm Gladwell was right: Talent is the ability to practice.
We have to understand doing our best work is a journey. We don’t start off being brilliant. We start off at ‘mediocre’. Then we go to ‘not too bad’. Then we go to ‘OK’. Then we go to ‘good’. Then eventually we arrive at ‘excellent’. And, occasionally we will go to ‘great’.
Everyone can learn the talent to do their best work. But not everyone has the patience to practice until they are good enough to deliver it.
Most people don’t love what they do. Most people have a deferred life plan that will allow them to one day do the thing that matters most to them. Most people don’t look forward to Monday morning.
But if you are lucky enough to find something you love doing, that will give you a life-long edge over others. Learning your craft will be easier. Practice will not be a chore. The hunger to improve will never leave you. And most importantly, it will be fun.
For you, work will never feel like work, no matter how hard you work at it. Even if you start at the bottom, it will be the bottom of the thing you want to do most. Err, and even that will be great fun.
To do your best work, you will have to be in love with what you do. It might be a while before it loves you back. But that is just called practice. And practice, when love comes along to every session, is never miserable. Just hard work.
“10,000 hours learning to be a Grandmaster can be a very short time when you love it. Or an eternity when you don’t.”
Some people live for the weekend. But that is only two days of the week. And there are five workdays. It is much better, even just for mathematical reasons, to do something that you love as you will spend more time on it than anything else. Plus, it will make you happier. And you still get to have as much fun as you want on the weekends.
‘Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.’ Simon Sinek.
Most teams have their ego’s. The general rule is the bigger the talent, the bigger the ego.
Conversely, the best and the hardest team to form is one when there is no ego. Where the pursuit of the team goals is the only thing that matters. A selfless team is the hardest to form because putting the ego to one side is a difficult task.
At this stage, the team is the most important thing. The team looks after the team. Individual egos are no longer as important as the team. Teams win because everyone in the team puts the team first.
Once this state is reached it is the most potent that a team can achieve. It has reached its optimum. Not just in what it can accomplish, but in the feeling you get from being part of it. This team, even with less talented individuals, can beat a team with superstars that just play for themselves and not the team.
I am a football fan, so let me share this example. Although Louis Suarez didn’t turn out to be the perfect human, he proved to be the perfect team player. He had immense talent. But maybe his biggest gift was that he could crush his ego. For him, the team would always have to come first. He came second to the needs of the team.
He chased every ball. His chased every lost cause. He did the work. He is a world-class star. But, for him, the team was the star.
Even if you are a writer tucked away in your little shed, you still need a team. You will need an editor. Probably an agent. A book publisher. Then you need a good friend to tell you when something sucks when no one else will. Or just to kick you up the ass and get on write.
To do your best work, you will have to build a team around you. Where the ego is not allowed to get in the way of you doing your best work.
Most people don’t know why they are doing the job they are doing. Most companies don’t know why they are in business. Most people float through life.
But if you understand why you want to make this thing happen, what you want to change, why this work matters to you, then that is called purpose.
A strong purpose is a multiplier of your effort. You understand the reason why the work you are doing matters.
Purpose supplies your inner drive. It fuels innovation. It finds you your best people. It keeps them with you when other companies come poaching. (They will.) It keeps you staying true when it would be easy to compromise. It stops you from quitting when times get tough. (And, they will.)
Purpose gives you a reason to fight like you have never fought before. And to keep on fighting. With everything you have. Nothing spared.
The kid in the schoolyard that you shouldn’t fight is the one you have insulted his mother. He knows why he is going to kick your ass. And if you beat him this time, he will just keep coming back. He is fighting for something much bigger than himself. Truly.
To do your best work, you will have to understand why it matters to you. Define your purpose. It will help you do your best work.
Most people want rapid progress. Most people look for huge wins. Most people want to hit the ball out of the park. These big wins happen rarely. Most people don’t want to work on small things. And yet, they deliver improvements almost without fail.
If today we got 1% better at what we do and continued that improvement each day, it wouldn’t take long before we have hugely improved our skill levels.
In business, in sport, most progress comes from small incremental gains over a set time. Those little improvements may not add up to much by themselves. But once put together with all the other increases, they begin to add up to a significant gain.
Micro gains from micro daily habits almost always deliver some growth. And that growth applies to talent as much as sales.
To do your best work, find small ways to improve. And do the same tomorrow.