“We’d worry so much less about what people thought of us if we realized how seldom they do.” This quote is attributed to many people, and as cliche as it sounds, it’s worth checking in with yourself and asking: Am I living in a way that serves me, or in a way that is consistent with what I believe others expect of me?
It’s hard to overstate the value of a useful perspective or piece of advice that comes at the right time. If I read an entire book, listen to a podcast, or even attend a seminar, and all I glean is one great nugget of wisdom, I consider it a worthwhile investment.
It may be easy to scoff at the time-cost of a three-hour book reading session that only delivers one great idea. Until you find that one idea has you starting a new side business (or deciding to bail on the one you have), saves your company money, or stops you from going into a career or Master’s program that you would have regretted.
The etymology of the word “priority” is interesting. It’s over 600 years old, but only about a hundred years ago (the industrial age) did a plural form of the word appear. “Priori” essentially meant “before all else”. Asking what someone’s priorities were would have been like asking: who is your one best friends?
Unless there’s an urgent threat to our lives, we can’t expect to hold one single priority in modern life. But it’s worth considering that some of the most important things are sacrificed at the cost of things that are simply urgent but to which we never assigned a high priority. If we’re “busy” but not feeling accomplished it may be useful to take a step back and review our priorities, narrowing them down as much as possible.
Most of the media we’re exposed to in a 24-hour news cycle is not positive. Everyone knows that fueling outrage will obtain far more clicks than the human interest story of a stranger who did something kind for one of her 7 billion neighbors.
Because negative news is more pervasive, it’s easy to think that destructive things and people are the norm.
You probably won’t make the news by doing kind things for strangers with no regard for what they may get in return, but you will help instill faith in humanity and cancel out some of the damaging behavior of others.
I’m a big fan of simple mental models or thought experiments in the form of a question that immediately put things in perspective. Here’s one with many alternates that can serve to put you on the right path:
“Is what I’m about to do going to move me closer or further away from what’s important?”
Modify any of the words to get to the same version of the question. For example, “Is what I’m about to decide going to move for closer or further away from the person I aspire to be?”
One useful way to prompt intrinsic motivation is to think like an athlete. Set aside time for focused, deep work, either creating something valuable or “sharpening the saw “so that we are better creators.
At the highest level of athletics, professionals train hard in “sprints”, then rest, then reassess based on their performance on the battlefield. In our business lives, we tend to just plug away as though 10 hours of “work” is equal to 10 hours of output or value.
For many of us who are used to trading our time for money, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like our time is intrinsically valuable, but it’s only as valuable as what it enables you to create, become, or deliver on the battlefield.
We don’t judge the quality of a book by the number of hours it took the author to write it. When a friend recommends a great movie we don’t ask what the film’s budget was.
When we hire companies to do landscaping or cater a party, we don’t interrogate them about the tools they use. And we don’t evaluate their work product by asking how many years they’ve been in business. We care about and discuss the thing that matters: the outcome.
When hiring someone to do anything, you get the best result when you review their work and have a human conversation that maps their interests and past performance to the outcomes you desire. Hiring a graphic artist? Don’t ask what software they prefer or how many years they’ve done work. Discuss and review their most comparable work product to the one you seek.
The main concept in the book “Time Off” is that you can’t maintain a great work ethic without having a great “rest ethic”. It’s easy to see the necessity of time off when we use an exaggerated example and consider how productive we’d be after days without sleep.
Mounting scientific evidence shows that we are even more productive and fulfilled when we manage our own self-care and downtime, but chances are you didn’t need science to tell you that.
One big takeaway for me is not just that this is true, but that it’s just like any other habit or skill that you can improve.
Given the choice of who to hire, work with, or work for, always choose character over skills. It’s possible to learn a lot from someone highly skilled in any discipline, but it’s easier to address skill gaps than it is to manage the devastation from lapses in character or integrity.
Anyone who thinks skills and experience can compensate for a principle like integrity has never witnessed the financial (and psychological) damage done to organizations that stem from toxic bosses or colleagues.
Remember when you first learned about compound interest? It wasn’t intuitive that starting with a penny on day one and doubling it each day for 30 days would net so much money. Investing time and attention works in a similar way, compounding, even if it’s not exponential.
One powerful lesson from any investment that repeats and compounds is that real progress or growth isn’t immediately obvious. Knowing this allows you to adjust your expectations and stay in the game.
Citing the above penny-doubling experiment, after 10 days (1/3 of the way!) you only have $10.24. What do you have on day 30? $5.4 million.