effective or efficient?

„Lack of progress“ is a feeling that is knocking at my door every couple of weeks. And every time it does, I get quite frustrated because I put a lot of effort into being productive throughout my days.

Usually, my initial response is to search for someone or something else to blame. I mean, I – the one trying so hard not to waste any time – cannot be the reason, right? I am not watching Netflix anymore. There is some phone scrolling, which mostly is work-related. And yes, still too often I drift off into social media. I try to be very conscious of what I am consuming there. It’s rarely cute cat videos. Mostly content that suggests some sort of business or self-development theories. So my brain tricks me into thinking it is not a waste of time. And since I know it is, I greyscaled my phone display and deleted basically all apps. Occasionally I meet friends for a coffee or dinner. Going to bars and clubs almost never happened, since my daughter arrived. Ultimately, I aim to devote my time either to family, sports, or work. Whenever work does not seem to move forward and it feels like the days do not have enough hours, the easiest time-consuming villain that my impatient and unsatisfied self can find is my family. Obviously, that’s ridiculous, so then my wife rightfully gives me a quick reality check and I am left with no one else to blame but myself.

‚What is it that I do wrong?‘ – I think there are mainly two things to look at:

  1. The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit
  2. Doing the things right ≠ doing the right things

Regarding point 1: I actually quite like the concept of delayed gratification. Smaller actions compound over time and at some point in the future, everything falls into place and all the hard work pays off. Unless you are super lucky, I think that is the only way how great and lasting success can be achieved. Therefore I do not expect to reach all my goals overnight. What I am sometimes struggling with though, is setting my expectations right. I tend to forget that I have a lot of other things outside of work that need to be taken care of. Groceries shopping, Cooking, Keeping the house in order, Taking kiddo to the doctor… I view it as maintenance stuff.. Not very exciting, but it needs to be done. Disregarding it, however, leads to setting unrealistic short-term goals. Struggling to keep up with them then of course leads to frustration.

During a leadership training in my corporate days, I was introduced to the concept of „Circle of control“. It suggests differentiating between the things you can control and the given circumstances that you are operating in. You cannot control the circumstances but you can control how you react to them. Quite sure this concept could help in sorting this issue out. A homework I still have to do.

Regarding point 2: Steven Pressfield wrote a book called „The War of Art“. In this book he explores the act of getting things done. What I like about the book is the way he describes what he calls „Resistance“. An invisible force inside of us that has only one goal. To keep us from getting things done. What is tricky about Resistance is that it can show up in every possible form. Self-doubt, criticism, self-victimhood. I am mentioning this because when I read his take on Resistance showing up in the form of procrastination, I felt exposed. Procrastination can be very obvious. You need to do stuff and constantly find yourself checking if there is food in the fridge. Or you start vacuuming the whole house. But it can also show up in much more subtle ways which is what I experience over and over again. Instead of getting the most important thing done, I get lost in a research loop about the task ahead. Or I start doing other tasks, that might also need doing, but should not be the top priority. I tend to fall for the most obvious and comfortable task on my to-do list instead of doing the uncomfortable important task. In a way, me writing this text now also feels like procrastination. When trying to explain my behaviour, I observed that it mostly happens when I do not feel 100% clear on how to approach my next step. I get overwhelmed and escape into a low-hanging fruit task. Like that, I can still feel like I got something done without doing what needed to be done the most.

There are a few things I do to prevent this from happening and they are working quite well for me lately. Firstly, and that’s the foundation, I try to set clear priorities. I take a birdseye view of the next couple of weeks and write down, what I want to achieve and what things need to be done in which order to get there. Secondly, every day, before I start working, I take a pen and paper and write down the 3-5 most important tasks for the day. I put little tick boxes next to them so that I can reward myself with a little tick whenever I finish a task. On the other hand, whenever I drift off too much, a quick look at the list helps me to stay focused. I have probably tried every digital to-do list tool out there and I still use notion to keep a backlog of tasks. To stay focused on a daily basis though, the physical to-do list, which cannot hide between 20 open browser tabs, turned out to work the best for me. And lastly, coming back to Pressfield, you can use Resistance to your advantage. Usually, the thing that feels most unfavorable to do, where Resistance is the strongest, is the one that is most important and you should be doing that first.

Okay enough procrastination.. back to work 🙂