- There will always be constraints on what you can accomplish in a certain amount of time.
- Poor results have less to do with competency and more with how you decide to deploy your resources.
- The three variables you can reliably control are what you do with your time, your energy, and your focus.
In the Industrial Age, a good employee would show up on the production line on time, exert themselves doing the task demanded of them, and focus on what was put in front of them. These employees had little to no autonomy around their work, including the choice of work and how they sought to create the necessary results. You might perceive this arrangement as negative, but I promise you it has a tremendous upside, one that will lead us to the root cause of poor results and the key to improving your results.
When I was thirteen years old, my friend started working at a banquet center, washing dishes. His mom was working there as a server, and they needed another dishwasher. I soon joined him, washing dishes for hours on end. Each day, dishes would be plated and served to the thousands of people attending the events, collected from the tables, and returned to the kitchen to be washed and plated again. We washed the dishes, stacked them, and when we were done, we went home. There was no decision to make about which dishes to wash or how to wash them. There were no emails that showed up as tasks or to-dos, and no progress meetings to check in on them. There was, however, a paycheck every two weeks.
The Root Causes of Poor Performance
For knowledge workers, daily work is nothing like the predictable work that existed in the past and is increasingly being automated. For example, these days most meetings are scheduled through software like Outlook. Because of this shift in how we work, we have a lot more choices to make on the job. The root cause of poor performance is found in three resources, all of which are deployed by individual choices: time, energy, and focus. The decisions you make around these three variables are largely responsible for your results.
How Do You Use Your Time?
The first variable, time, is incredibly important. Time is your single, finite, non-renewable resource. But our experience distorts the reality of time in two key ways. First, we perceive that it is always right now, the present moment. Second, every time we go to sleep at night, we are greeted in the morning with another day. There is always going to be a tomorrow until there isn’t one.
Doing something today is not the same as doing it tomorrow or this weekend or even next month. When you avoid doing what you need to do today, you are pushing the result you need further into the future. What’s worse, establishing patterns of procrastination forces you to push a large number of important results into the future. In some cases, the work you don’t do now means never achieving an important result at all.
As a knowledge worker, you have autonomy over much of your time. That autonomy allows you to make bad choices around what you do with your time—and to suffer the consequences of poor results. The remedy for making these bad choices is to develop good work habits, to prioritize the work that generates the results you need, and to plan your work before the day starts (hyper-scheduling).
How Do You Deploy Your Energy?
Your energy can be depleted and renewed, often as the result of your own choices. You can increase the amount of energy you have to work with by taking good care of your body and your mind. Better sleep, hydration, exercise, diet, and stress management will provide you with more and better energy. Poor choices in these areas will starve you of the energy you need.
Whatever level of energy you have, you get to decide how to deploy it. You can use your energy to do work that has nothing to do with your priorities, your goals, or your ambitions. There is no end of diversions, disruptions, and disasters on the small screen of infinite distractions (or the larger screens that can consume and command too many hours of our lives). Energy wasted on the trivial deprives you of the fuel you need for what is most important.
The more you devote your energy to the most important outcomes you are pursuing, the more certainly you will achieve the results you need. This is an investment decision and you should treat it as such. Investing in outcomes that provide you with a good return on the energy you spent is wise. Wasting your energy on trivial tasks that don’t move you towards your goals means producing few or no real results outside of wasting your energy.
What Is Your Focus?
There are really two questions here: first, “what has my attention?” and second, “what really deserves it?” The idea that one can multitask is false, having been debunked by science. In fact, your results suffer when you keep switching your attention from one thing to another. You produce better results—and do so faster—when you give your focus to a single task.
You have limited time and energy, both of which limit your ability to focus. This makes decisions about what you allow to command your focus and attention critical factors in the results you produce. Your inbox is full of emails, but unless the primary outcome you are responsible for is inbox zero (I promise it’s not), then it should only command as much focus as it contributes to your actual results.
Improving results has relatively little to do with not knowing how to generate the results you need. Instead, you can easily boost your results by making good choices about what you do with your time, your energy, and your focus. The better your decisions and your habits, the better your results.
Do Good Work:
- What is the best and most important use of your limited time?
- What is the best choice you can make as it pertains to your energy?
- What should command the best part of your focus and attention?