An idea I’ve been mulling for the last few weeks is that to be as effective as possible, while minimizing my own stress levels, I need to embrace my own work cadence.
Let me explain what I mean.
Adapt Great Ideas, Don’t Adopt Great Ideas
I’ve read several of Cal Newport’s books. He has some great ideas in his books, some of which I’ve incorporated into my own work life over the last year or two, particularly in the area of deep work and in building productivity guardrails at the start and end of my day.
If I just try to lift his great ideas out of his books and impose them on myself, I’m unlikely to find a perfect fit. Newport is a different person than I am, who does different work than I do. So the key here is to adapt rather than to adopt those great ideas.
I actually think Newport would agree with this idea. I’m going from memory here, but as I recall he presented different ways of pursuing a given work objective varying based on the exact type of work you’re trying to do and whatever other personal characteristics seem to indicate that an adjustment is needed.
The bottom line is: adapt great ideas to suit your unique needs and personality, don’t just adopt someone else’s ideas uncritically.
Don’t Quit Hard Things too Quickly
This is the other side of the “adapt, don’t adopt” coin.
Whenever you’re working on a certain angle or strategy and you encounter resistance, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong. It may just mean you’re fighting inertia or retraining muscle memory. You have to stick it out long enough so that it’s clear whether the problem is the strategy or the problem is your existing bad habits. Adopting new strategies is hard work!
How Does This Apply to Me?
All of this is rolling around in my head because of a specific personality hiccup or trait that I’ve been wrestling with: I’m really bad at keeping up with my own personal project or task tracking on a daily basis.
To be clear, I deliver. I don’t think anyone that I work with would say I have trouble being effective or getting work done, I just know that at a personal level I do not enjoy ongoing maintenance of project management tools and systems. Because I don’t enjoy it and no one else relies on it, I don’t do it. On the other hand, I actually enjoy sitting down periodically and writing out all the things I’m working on, and I find that exercise incredibly clarifying.
At this point, I’ve embraced that reality. I’m probably not very going to consistently keep a Trello board with every task and every project and every deliverable. It’s unlikely I’ll have journals filled to bursting with detailed meeting notes and completed to-do lists.
Instead, here’s what I do:
- I keep a spreadsheet with a handful of really high-level priorities (OKRs) which I look at to start every day.
- Every week I create a single to-do list with my top-priorities for the week.
- On a day-to-day basis I just plug away at those top priorities.
- Instead of keeping a to-do list each day, I keep a daily log instead.
The log helps me get a little dopamine bump because I can look at it and see what I’ve gotten done and it also keeps me honest because I don’t like to see big gaps of time where I didn’t have anything to report.
This system works for me, right now, and I’m ok with that. I’m not Newport. I’m not Clear. This works for me, and that’s what matters.