3 Keys to Better Work: Practice Skills, Dive Deep, and Ignore Stuff
Dmitry Davydov 30 October 2015
Some ways to improve your efficiency and quality at work are apparent: improve your systems, manage your time, get better at communication, set priorities, focus.
But there are ways to get better at your work (and enjoy it more) that aren't obvious or intuitive. The changes may seem too subtle, or even strange, but the results can be amazing. Here are three you should try.
Improve Your Skills The basic skills that comprise your work are probably so second nature that you don't think about doing them anymore. That's good, in a sense: being able to perform a skill without a lot of effort or thought means you're pretty good at it. But if you assume easy means excellent, you might be wrong. Habitual skills and tasks can become easy, in fact, that you quit paying attention to quality. To produce excellent work, you need to be excellent at all the components of that work, from the most basic skills to the most challenging. The more complex your work, the more skills you'll have to master. Run a quick examination, analyzing your proficiency and quality from your basic skills up to the most demanding, high-level skills. Determine which skills you've truly mastered, for the best results in both quality and efficiency, and which skills can be improved.
Putting in regular, conscious practice to get better at the basic skills is the same principle that leads a marathon runner to practice sprints, or a basketball player to launch ball after ball from the free throw line. The basic skills, when mastered, produce work that is better, cleaner, and more efficiently produced than before. If you want to be really good at the most complex tasks and comprehensive projects, get really good at the basic skills you use every day.
Dive Deep into Your Work Living in the age of connectivity and accessibility, not to mention information overload, means that finding long periods of time to truly focus on one task is next to impossible.
But it's worth fighting for.
Getting deep into your work means focusing on your more demanding problems, tasks, or projects which will lead to real, tangible growth or progress in your work. It's easy to get side-tracked by simpler tasks, such as answering email and shuffling documents. To be able to deep-dive into your work, you have to protect some blocks of time: both from outside interruptions and from your own tendency to procrastinate, meander, and get lost in unimportant side trails.
Try scheduling a block of time, say, one afternoon per week, to "deep thinking" or "deep work." Or dedicate one day out of your work week. Whatever amount of time you choose to give to deep dives into your work, however, you need to take it seriously, protect it, and set up decent boundaries against distractions and crises.
Ignore Stuff (Selectively) The third, and perhaps most surprising, key to better work is the ability to ignore stuff. Don't ignore everything. As a general rule, ignore the stuff that isn't yours: the drama, the complaints, the details, the tasks, the meetings. If it isn't directly under your control, pertinent to your work, or in your authority or jurisdiction, stay out of it. Trust other people to be able to handle their responsibilities and solve their problems.
Helping others is noble, definitely; and it's something you should feel free to do. However, if you're not careful, you'll spend all your time helping other people with their work and never make progress on your own. That's a recipe for poor productivity and, ultimately, a career crisis.
Sometimes you also need to ignore your own stuff. This is perhaps the most difficult discipline. When you sit down for that deep dive into a particular project, ignore all your other stuff. When you're improving your skills to mastery, ignore the interruptions, the beeps and rings that signify urgency but ultimately offer real improvement. And when it's time to wrap up for the day, ignore all that work stuff. Your brain functions better when it has time to rest, play, and relax.
What changes will you make to improve your work? Start cultivating those skills to a level of mastery. Allot serious time to diving deep into your work, and guard against distractions during that time. And don't let fear, anxiety, or procrastination lure you into spending all your time on things you can't control. When you apply these three keys to your work, you'll see a difference, and the difference will be better work.