Are you dealing with a difficult maths problem or with difficult feelings about a maths problem?
Is the struggle with the work itself, or with your feelings – apathy, disillusionment, fury – about doing it?
It might help to shift your attention to those feelings instead of the problem in front of you. So your focus is no longer “write this article” or “make this thing” but “master my feelings about this work” or “inspire myself to finish this piece of the project.”
It might not help, of course, but working with our feelings often turns out to be the hardest part of doing good work. If you can work with them, there’s a double satisfaction in a job well done.
Here’s a short video with Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO of Automattic*. He talks a bit about lessons he’s learned in running a distributed company, and why he calls his workforce distributed rather than remote.
These are his tips for physical companies interested in transitioning to distributed work:
Document everything – so that key information like the reasons for decisions are clear to those who weren’t in the room.
Move communications online – “when everything’s shared and public, it allows new people to read through and catch up quickly.”
Find the right tools – “If you look around the office, the things that change how you work probably aren’t objects anymore – they’re things you access through your computer. So test out and experiment with different tools for collaboration – see what works.”
Create productive face-to-face time -Automattic holds an annual get together “half-work, half-play” to create the empathy and connection that helps the distributed team work together productively for the rest of the year.
Give people the flexibility to create their own work environment – “Every person in Automattic has a co-working stipend… and a home-office stipend… so that they can have the most productive environment for them.
I feel wary of losing the connection and accountability that in-person work allows, but there’s a long list of potential upsides here – including a wider talent pool, greater diversity of perspectives, more time and flexibility for employees, huge savings on office space and other overheads that can be spent on other things – that make it worth thinking more deeply about this.
Today there are just a few companies that are distributed first, but if you fast-forward a decade or two I predict that 90% of the companies that are going to changing the course of the world are going to function this way. I think that companies will evolve to be distributed first, or they’re going to replace those that are.
Of course you should work smart. Automate what you can. Delegate and outsource to people who can do things better than you. Shamelessly avoid, or ruthlessly eliminate, the unnecessary.
Then identify your real work – the things that only you can do, probably things for which there are no instructions or maps. Throw in a few inefficient things that you’ve discovered you need to do to keep you honest – and do the hard work of consistently showing up and getting it done.
Seth has written and produced so much helpful stuff centred (increasingly) around doing ‘work that matters for people who care.’ This is his first book for five years or so, and he describes it as a distillation of the most important things he knows about marketing.
We all know about compound interest in the world of money. Save £100 a month for thirty years at one percent interest** and you’ll have a little under £42,000 by the end of that time (compared to £36,000 at zero-percent).
Make that investment at 5% and suddenly you’ll hit £83,000.
10%*** makes almost £228,000.
It takes time, and the commitment to building something steadily. No tricks, no promises of outrageous returns, a degree of risk – but not when compared to not investing at all.
What if the interest we seek for our work – attention, respect, partnership, remuneration – could compound in the same way? Often it seems that we’re after a flash in the pan (Viral. Now.), or that we’re not building anything consistently at all.
Starting with almost nothing, drop by drip, brick by brick, little by little, we can build a mountain.
** 1% annually, calculated monthly
*** A reasonable return from a stocks-and-shares index fund
These are tasks that you can finish and be done with – at least for a time. An annual report, paying a bill, creating a resource, completing a job, trying up loose ends.
Getting these things done closes down options, shuts down possibilities.
We decide the scope of a project – and cut off the possibilities outside it so that we can focus and get things done.
We carry out a project – execute on a task, deliver a result – and it’s done.
We say ‘no’ to an offer or request – and save hours of thought and work down the road.
Executive and decisive work are central to our ability to get things done. It feels good to finish. Closing doors and cutting things away reduces friction and brings us closure. It’s worth learning to execute well.
At the same time, improving at this kind of work only brings incremental gains – you do what you were doing before, only faster. You might change how far you go, but it won’t change your direction.