“Good is the enemy of great”
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Good is the enemy of great” popularised by Jim Collins. So here’s a story for you on that.
I was 6 years old when my uncle first asked me to make him a cup of coffee. “I want it dark and sweet,” he said. Little did I know that I just received my first brief. Using my vast knowledge in making coffee at six years old, I went to the kitchen, boiled some water, opened a bottle of instant coffee, and mixed stuff together. I gave it to him, and he took a sip. He said, “good enough.”
Without finishing it, he gave me back the cup of coffee and asked me to make him another one.
“Good is the enemy of great the bedrock on which great is built”
Minutes after receiving my first brief, I got my first rework. I made him 7 cups of coffee that day. What I didn’t realise back then was that each cup of coffee I made was better than the last one. Good isn’t always the enemy of great. Instead, as Ryan Hanley puts it, “Good is the bedrock upon which great is built.”
The first good cup of coffee I made was the foundation for a great cup of coffee in the end.
When we talk about improving our performance, it’s important to recognise our current level of good: This is where I am today.
Let’s say I’ll apply better habits to improve the way I work, and then we corroborate if our level of good was raised to a higher standard – ultimately driving the impact we each want.
There is a ton of information out there on how to improve our performance. But I’m going personal with this one. Working across different fields and people, I realised that there is no sure-fire way of improving someone’s performance. I’ve had to search for what works for me and the people I worked with, starting with giving good habits a chance.
Improving my performance
There is no doubt that it will take some time to find the right habits that work for us. But once we do, it makes all the difference. Here’s a couple that we could try.
Getting things done
First is getting things done or GTD. The idea is to get more stuff done by prioritising actionable items over tasks that could potentially be blocked by another task.
This is something many of us are already doing without realising it. In Teamwork, or even in the scope of work, we list our tasks, break them down into smaller pieces, add estimates, and highlight dependencies.
Then, we arrange the tasks according to actionability – those that can be done the soonest will sit on top – and we do the tasks in this order.
Here’s the rub: It is often easy to skip this step. In our desire to get to where we want to go, we overlook that we don’t have a map of our destination. And that could be a shame since according to the Productivity Institute, an hour of planning saves 10 hours of doing.
Building a habit around getting stuff done saves time while preserving our rhythm.
- List tasks – You can use Teamwork or even the SoW to keep track of these
- Make sure they are broken into manageable pieces and are estimated
- Highlight dependencies
- Arrange tasks according to actionability
- Implement tasks in order
90-minute focus block
The other habit that works for many is the 90-minute focus block. Research on this suggests that anything in nature runs in cycles – also known as ultradian rhythms. The idea is to capitalise on productive periods – usually using peaks to do complex tasks, leaving non-productive periods for repetitive tasks. This can be done by identifying the most productive periods and blocking them off. No meetings, no interruptions! Because forcing yourself to perform during an afternoon slump does no one any good and may even result in physical distress.
During unproductive periods, you can start working on repetitive tasks. The key here is knowing when you are most productive and making use of it wisely.
- Identify productive periods throughout the day
- Block-off 90 minutes from your calendar in at least one of your peaks
- Capitalise on productive periods by executing complex or important tasks.
- Use non-productive periods for repetitive tasks
Other habits that could improve productivity
So it really depends on which habits work for you. And sometimes it will require trial and error. A lot of it actually.
Other habits that we could try are:
- The Eisenhower Matrix where we organise tasks according to importance and urgency.
- The other technique that works in some situations is the Pomodoro Technique where you work in periods of 25 minutes followed by 5-minute breaks.
- You may also try Pareto Analysis which suggests that 20% of your effort should result in 80% of intended outcomes. You need to first identify which tasks make up the 20% that results in 80% of work done and complete those tasks first.
- One interesting but effective method is keeping a distraction list. Since the brain likes to mess things up for us, it often remembers the most bizarre things at the worst possible time. So the idea is to have paper and pen at your desk at all times. Now, if your brain suddenly thinks of something that keeps you from your focus, write it down quickly and then refocus. By immediately writing down our distracting thoughts, we signal to our minds that those distractions are acknowledged and will be taken care of if necessary. You can look back at the list at the end of your focus time.
Reading suggestion: Atomic Habits by James clear has some amazing material.
Improve personal wellbeing
Aside from developing habits that could improve productivity, I found it beneficial to balance this with activities that improve personal wellbeing. Here are a few things we can do.
The hero’s journey
According to an article in The Atlantic, during the pandemic, “many people liberated from the commute have experienced a void they can’t quite name.” The commute often allows an individual to shed off their home persona and transform into their professional selves. Many of us here have been working remotely for quite some time now and commuting could just be a memory from a distant past. We don’t have to travel too far to get to our workstation either. But we also need to take the time to get into the zone. We need our hero’s journey too.
Think of something you will always do before starting your work and stick to it. My hero’s journey begins with a cup of coffee, sitting by the window, listening to the birds and activity around me. After drinking my first cup of coffee, I get ready for work. You can also do the same when you’re done working.
Think of something you need to do at the end of your day to help you transition from work to home. This is a good thing, according to Microsoft researcher Shamsi Iqbal. Being able to detach from a job is part of what makes a good worker because those who don’t could experience burnout.
Another well-being exercise I started doing during the pandemic is the 20-20-20 technique. I saw this on Facebook and I’m glad I found a research to back it up. How does this work? After looking at a screen for 20 minutes, look at something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This was coined by Dr Jeffrey Anshel in the 1990s to educate the public on computer use after seeing many patients come in with “strange” vision concerns with the only common factor being that they all used computers for extended hours.
Working remotely, helped me relax my eyes and at times, it is during this 20-second window that aha moments come to life.
Our last tip for improving our personal wellness is the Party Parrot. Wellness professionals call this stretching. The former has more pizazz.
This technique encourages us to incorporate stretching throughout our day. Standing desks work too but make sure you stretch those hands, arms, fingers, legs, or shoulders, from time to time to relieve pressure, prevent cramps, and improve circulation.
Invest in yourself
In an effort to elevate our personal level of good, we could look to external sources as well.
Brushing up skills, and keeping up to date with the latest practices in your field is a great way to acquire new knowledge
These certifications you earn from completing training, digital programs, or micro degrees are especially useful for those who want to pursue studies in specialised fields.
Richard McKeon of Prosple speaks of the challenges of big degrees not being able to keep up with the pace of technological change or that “many degrees are offered in capital cities and during working hours” making it challenging for working professionals to attend. In an Australian Association of Graduate Employees (AAGE) presentation, they highlighted that those stackable micro-credentials play a big part in eliminating learning challenges as industries evolve.
Get yourself out there
The last self-investment tip is to join conferences: TrustED Conf, Digital Marketing Conferences, or industry groups to build connections and be up to date with the latest trends too.
Measuring the effectiveness of my improvement efforts
PLAN – DO – CHECK – ACT
Our performance contributes the most to the success of our impact. If we keep on raising our level of good, we will continue to deliver a better impact for ourselves and our clients.
While there are other ways of driving impact, our performance undeniably contributes the most to its success or failure. But as long as we keep on raising our level of good, we will continue to deliver a better impact for ourselves and our clients.
We can do this by following the Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control phases and finding the right habits that work for us. Make sure you corroborate the effectiveness of your efforts, so you don’t waste time making 7 cups of coffee when you could have just made 2.