How to Work Smarter: Do Less, Then Obsess

We all have days during which we feel as though we are running at full speed from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning till the time we stumble into bed late that night. These are the days of deadlines to meet, tasks to accomplish, meetings to lead, and … the list goes on and on.

Do we ever stop to think that our busyness might actually be dangerous?

Busyness can be dangerous, because it causes us to focus on pressing problems rather than on priorities. When that happens, we can miss strategic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – like developing the leaders on our teams toward their highest potential.

THE QUICK SUMMARY

From the New York Times bestselling coauthor of Great by Choice comes an authoritative, practical guide to individual performance—based on analysis from an exhaustive, groundbreaking study.

Why do some people perform better at work than others? This deceptively simple question continues to confound professionals in all sectors of the workforce. Now, after a unique, five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees, Morten Hansen reveals the answers in his “Seven Work Smarter Practices” that can be applied by anyone looking to maximize their time and performance.

Each of Hansen’s seven practices is highlighted by inspiring stories from individuals in his comprehensive study. You’ll meet a high school principal who engineered a dramatic turnaround of his failing high school; a rural Indian farmer determined to establish a better way of life for women in his village; and a sushi chef, whose simple preparation has led to his restaurant (tucked away under a Tokyo subway station underpass) being awarded the maximum of three Michelin stars. Hansen also explains how the way Alfred Hitchcock filmed Psycho and the 1911 race to become the first explorer to reach the South Pole both illustrate the use of his seven practices (even before they were identified).

Each chapter contains questions and key insights to allow you to assess your own performance and figure out your work strengths, as well as your weaknesses. Once you understand your individual style, there are mini-quizzes, questionnaires, and clear tips to assist you focus on a strategy to become a more productive worker. Extensive, accessible, and friendly, Great at Work will help you achieve more by working less, backed by unprecedented statistical analysis.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

We all know the feeling of not enough hours in the day to accomplish all the tasks in front of us. The platitude, “work smarter, not harder” often rings hollow in our ears. Yes, we must work smarter, but work oftentimes is hard, and there’s no way around that fact.

Conventional wisdom states that people who work harder and take on more responsibilities accomplish more and perform better. Countering this view, management experts recommend that people focus by choosing just a few areas of work.

“Doing more” is usually a flawed strategy. The same goes for being asked to “focus harder.” Focus isn’t simply about choosing to concentrate on a few areas, as most people think.

The smart way to work is to first do less, then obsess.

People in our study who chose a few key priorities and then made huge efforts to do terrific work in those areas scored on average 25 percentage points higher in their performance than those who pursued many priorities. “Do less, then obsess” was the most powerful practice among the seven discussed in this book.

“Doing more” creates two traps. In the spread-too-thin trap, people take on many tasks, but can’t allocate enough attention to each. In the complexity trap, the energy required to manage the interrelationship between tasks leads people to waste time and execute poorly.

Here are the three ways you can implement the “do less, then obsess” principle:

  1. Wield the razor: Shave away unnecessary tasks, priorities, committees, steps metrics, and procedures. Channel all your effort into excelling in the remaining activities. Ask: How many tasks can I remove, given what I must do to excel? Remember: As few as you can, as many as you must.
  2. Tie yourself to the mast: Set clear rules ahead of time to fend off temptation and distraction. Create a rule as trivial as not allowing yourself to check email for an hour.
  3. Say “no” to your boss: Explain to your boss that adding more to your to-do list will hurt your performance. The path to greatness isn’t pleasing your boss all the time. It’s saying “no” so that you can apply intense effort to excel in a few chosen areas.

Morten Hansen, Great at Work

A NEXT STEP

Set aside a two-four hour time block when you can work on the principle outlined above by Morten Hansen: First do less, then obsess.

Create three chart tablets, listing each of the three phrases above on a page.

Review the activities listed under each phrase, and brainstorm how you can accomplish each.

After you have completed the task, schedule a time to review the results with your supervisor, and work toward a mutually-agreed upon plan of action.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 96-1, issued July 2018.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

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Return on Luck

– a quick personal note: I’m away attending to some urgent family business, so I’ve suspended the 2013 GsD Fall Term for a week. In it’s place, I’m reposting one of the most popular series on 27gen – a look at Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice with application to ChurchWorld. It continues to get views almost every day, so I hope you enjoy the entire series

Today marks the final post this week on Great by Choice, the recently released book by Jim Collins and his colleague Morten Hansen. In much the same way as Collins’ previous works (particularly Good to Great), Great by Choice is written to a business leader audience using primarily business examples – but it is dead-center must reading for leaders in ChurchWorld.

Here are Collins’ and Hansen’s summary thoughts on the final principle in the book, Return on Luck.

courtesy jodymichael.com

courtesy jodymichael.com

A luck event is defined as one that meets three tests:

(1) some significant aspect of the event occurs largely or entirely independent of the actions of the key actors in the enterprise;

(2) the event has a potentially significant consequence (good or bad); and

(3) the event has some element of unpredictability.

Luck happens, a lot, both good luck and bad luck. Every company in the research experienced significant luck events in the era of analysis. Yet the 10X cases were not generally luckier than the comparison cases.

  • The 10X companies did not generally get more good luck than the comparisons.
  • The 10X companies did not generally get less bad luck from the comparison.
  • The 10X companies did not get their good luck earlier than the comparisons.
  • The 10X companies cannot be explained by a single giant-luck spike.

There are four possible ROL scenarios

  • Great return on good luck
  • Poor return on good luck
  • Great return on bad luck
  • Poor return on bad luck.

10Xers credit good luck as a contributor to their success, despite the undeniable fact that others also experienced good luck, but the never blame bad luck for setbacks or failures.

“Who Luck” – the luck of finding the right mentor, partner, teammate, leader, friend – is one of the most important types of luck. The best way to find a strong current of good luck is to swim with great people, and to build deep and enduring relationships with people for whom you’d risk your life and who’d risk their lives for you.

How’s your luck today?

Great by Choice

SMaC Down!

– a quick personal note: I’m away attending to some urgent family business, so I’ve suspended the 2013 GsD Fall Term for a week. In it’s place, I’m reposting one of the most popular series on 27gen – a look at Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice with application to ChurchWorld. It continues to get views almost every day, so I hope you enjoy the entire series

 

All week long I’ve been posting excerpts and summaries from Great by Choice, the latest work by Jim Collins (assisted this time by Morten Hansen). Great by Choice asks a simple question:

Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?

Collins and Hansen have answered that question with solid principles, based on nine years of research and interviews. The following are the authors’  comments on SMaC.

SMaC stand for Specific, Methodical, and Consistent.

The more uncertain, fast-changing, and unforgiving your environment, the more SMaC you need to be.

A SMaC recipe is a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula; it is clear and concrete, enabling the entire enterprise to unify and organize its efforts, giving clear guidance regarding what to do and what not to do. A SMaC recipe reflects empirical validation and insight about what actually works and why.

Developing a SMaC recipe, adhering to it, and amending it (rarely) when conditions merit correlate with 10X success. This requires the three 10X behaviors:

  • empirical creativity (for developing and evolving it)
  • fanatic discipline (for sticking to it)
  • productive paranoia (for sensing necessary changes).
courtesy greeceathena.wordpress.com

courtesy greeceathena.wordpress.com

Amendments to a SMaC recipe can be made to one element or ingredient while leaving the rest of the recipe intact. Like making amendments to an enduring constitution, this approach allows you to facilitate dramatic change and maintain extraordinary consistency.

Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.

What is your SMaC recipe? Is it still valid, or does it need amending?

Continually question and challenge your recipe, but change it rarely.

Great by Choice

Leading Above the Death Line

– a quick personal note: I’m away attending to some urgent family business, so I’ve suspended the 2013 GsD Fall Term for a week. In it’s place, I’m reposting one of the most popular series on 27gen – a look at Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice with application to ChurchWorld. It continues to get views almost every day, so I hope you enjoy the entire series

In one of the strangest names I’ve seen applied to a business principle, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen describe three key dimensions of productive paranoia in their book Great by Choice with the following chapter title:

Leading Above the Death Line

courtesy peakfreaks.com

courtesy peakfreaks.com

The authors use a real story (two different climbing teams’ assault on Mt. Everest in 1996; one succeeded, one had a tragic ending) to illustrate the concept of productive paranoia.

  1. Build cash reserves and buffers to prepare for unexpected events and bad luck before they happen.
  2. Bound riskDeath Line risk, asymmetric risk, and uncontrollable risk – and manage time-based risk.
  3. Zoom out, then zoom in, remaining hypervigilant to sense changing conditions and respond effectively.

10Xers understand that they cannot reliably and consistently predict future events, so they prepare obsessively – ahead of time, all the time – for what they cannot possibly predict. They assume that a series of bad events can wallop them in quick succession, unexpectedly and at any time.

It’s what you do before the storm hits – the decisions and disciplines and buffers and shock absorbers already in place – that matters most in determining whether your enterprise pulls ahead, falls behind, or dies when the storm hits.

10Xers build buffers and shock absorbers far beyond the norm of what other do. The 10X companies studied carried 3 to 10 times the ration of cash to assets relative to the median of what most companies carry and maintained more conservative balance sheets than the comparison companies throughout their histories, even when they were small enterprises.

10X cases are extremely prudent in how they approach and manage risk, paying special attention to three categories of risk:

  1. Death Line risk (which can kill or severely damage the enterprise)
  2. Asymmetric risk (in which the downside dwarfs the upside)
  3. Uncontrollable risk (which cannot be controlled or managed)

10Xers zoom out, then zoom in. They focus on their objectives and sense changes in their environment; they push for perfect execution and adjust to changing conditions. When they sense danger, they immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives.

While you might not face the same circumstances in ChurchWorld as in the business world (especially in terms of generating revenue), you have a risk profile just as any business does.

Take a look at the environment around you – how much time before the risk profile changes?

What have you done to get ready for it?

Great by Choice

Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs

– a quick personal note: I’m away attending to some urgent family business, so I’ve suspended the 2013 GsD Fall Term for a week. In it’s place, I’m reposting one of the most popular series on 27gen – a look at Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice with application to ChurchWorld. It continues to get views almost every day, so I hope you enjoy the entire series

In Jim Collins’ last book Great by Choice, he and colleague Morten Hansen used extensive research to identify companies whose financial performance bettered their competition by at least a factor of 10 over the study period. Identifying these organizations and their leaders as 10Xers, they then discovered three core beliefs that these organizations had in common. Their research also revealed some common principles these organizations practiced; principles that lead the companies to greatness in environments characterized by big forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control.

Take this one, which could come out of the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie:

Fire bullets, then cannonballs.

Here is a summary of what Collins and Hansen said about this principle:

A “fire bullets, then cannonballs” approach better explains the success of 10X companies than big leap innovations and predictive genius. A bullet is a low-cost, low risk, and low distraction test or experiment. 10Xers use bullets to empirically validate what will actually work. Based on that empirical validation, they then concentrate their resources to fire a cannonball, enabling large returns from concentrated bets.

courtesy examiner.com

courtesy examiner.com

The 10X cases fired a significant number of bullets that never hit anything. They didn’t know ahead of time which bullets would hit or be successful.

Next, there are two types of cannonballs, calibrated and uncalibrated.

  • A calibrated cannonball has confirmation based on actual experience – empirical validation – that a big bet will likely prove successful.
  • An uncalibrated cannonball means placing a big bet without empirical validation.
Cannon

courtesy jackintheteambox.com

Uncalibrated cannonballs can lead to calamity. The companies researched paid a huge price when big, disruptive events coincided with their firing uncalibrated cannonballs, leaving them exposed.  10Xers periodically made the mistake of firing an uncalibrated cannonball, but they tended to self-correct quickly. The comparison cases, in contrast, were more likely to try to fix their mistakes by firing yet another uncalibrated cannonball, compounding their problems.

Failure to fire cannonballs, once calibrated, leads to mediocre results. The idea is not to choose between bullets or cannonballs, but to fire bullets first, then fire cannonballs.

The difficult task is to marry relentless discipline with creativity, neither letting discipline inhibit creativity nor letting creativity erode discipline. This combination of creativity and discipline, translated into the ability to scale innovation with great consistency, better explains some of the greatest stories – from Intel to Southwest Airlines, from Amgen’s early years to Apple’s resurgence under Steve Jobs – than the mythology of big-hit, single-step breakthroughs.

The Leader’s Key Question

Which of the following behaviors do you most need to increase?

  • Firing enough bullets
  • Resisting the temptation to fire uncalibrated cannonballs
  • Committing, by converting bullets into cannonballs once you have empirical validation

Ready – Aim – Fire!

Great by Choice

20 Mile March

– a quick personal note: I’m away attending to some urgent family business, so I’ve had to suspend the 2013 GsD Fall Term for a week. In it’s place, I’m reposting one of the most popular series on 27gen – a look at Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice with application to ChurchWorld. It continues to get views almost every day, so I hope you enjoy the entire series

Great by Choice is the latest work by Jim Collins, answering a single question: Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Collins and his colleague Morten Hansen enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times.

Like the world we live in today.

Yesterday’s post looked at the three core behaviors that Collins and Hansen identified in their successful group – the 10Xers.

courtesy gazellessystems.com

courtesy gazellessystems.com

The first of these – Fanatic Discipline – is illustrated by the term “20 Mile March.” You need to read the book to get the full understanding, but here is Collins’ summary:

To “20 Mile March” requires hitting specified performance marks with great consistency over a long period of time. It requires two distinct types of discomfort, delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back in good times.

A good 20 Mile March has the following seven characteristics:

  • Clear performance markers
  • Self-imposed constraints
  • Appropriate to the specific enterprise
  • Largely within the company’s control to achieve
  • A proper timeframe – long enough to manage; yet short enough to have teeth
  • Imposed by the company on itself
  • Achieved with high consistency

A 20 Mile March needn’t be financial. You can have a creative march, a learning march, a service-improvement march, or any other type of march, as long as it has the primary characteristics of a good 20 Mile March.

The 20 Mile March builds confidence. By adhering to a 20 Mile March no matter what challenges and unexpected shocks you encounter, you prove to yourself and your enterprise that performance is not determined by your conditions but largely by your own actions.

Failing to 20 Mile March leaves an organization more exposed to turbulent events. Every comparison case had at least one episode of slamming into a difficult time without having the discipline of a 20 Mile March in place, which resulted in a major setback or catastrophe.

The 20 Mile March helps you exert self-control in an out-of-control environment.

10X winners set their own 20 Mile March, appropriate to their own enterprises; they don’t let outside pressures define it for them.

20 Mile Marching wasn’t a luxury afforded to the 10X cases by their success; they had 20 Mile Marches in place long before they were big successes, which helped them to become successful in the first place.

How far are you going to march today? And tomorrow? And the next day? and the next…

Great by Choice

Are You a 10Xer?

– a quick personal note: I’m away attending to some urgent family business, so I’ve had to suspend the 2013 GsD Fall Term for a week. In it’s place, I’m reposting one of the most popular series on 27gen – a look at Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice with application to ChurchWorld. It continues to get views almost every day, so I hope you enjoy the entire series

Jim Collins’ latest book is out – and it’s another winner, packed with an amazing depth of research that he and colleague Morten Hansen have distilled down into thought-provoking, sticky, and supremely practical concepts. Great by Choice is the equal to Good to Great, and is a must-read for leaders in ChurchWorld. Get your copy today, and dive into it. You’ll soon be introduced to some amazing concepts.

Like the 10Xer.

With a team of more than twenty researchers, Collins and Hansen studied companies that rose to greatness – beating their industry indexes by a minimum of ten times over fifteen years – in environments characterized by big forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control. The research team then contrasted companies that failed to achieve greatness in similarly extreme environments.

Weaving the story of South Pole explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott throughout the narrative, and juxtaposing them with current CEOs, Collins and Hansen paint a vivid picture of what 10X organizations (and their leaders) look like:

  • Fanatic discipline: 10Xers display extreme consistency of action – consistency with values, goals, performance standards, and methods. They are utterly relentless, monomaniacal, and unbending in their focus on their quests.
  • Empirical creativity: when faced with uncertainty, 10Xers do not look primarily to other people, conventional wisdom, authority figures, or peers for direction; they look primarily to empirical evidence. They rely upon direct observation, practical experimentation, and direct engagement with tangible evidence. They make their bold, creative moves from a sound empirical base.
  • Productive paranoia: 10Xers maintain hypervigilance, staying highly attuned to threats and changes in their environment, even when – especially when – all’s going well. They assume conditions will turn against them, at perhaps the worst possible moment. They channel their fear and worry into action, preparing, developing contingency plans, building buffers and maintaining large margins of safety.

Underlying the three core 10Xer behaviors describe above is a motivating force: passion and ambition for a cause or company larger than themselves. They have egos, but their egos are channeled into their companies and their purposes, not personal aggrandizement.

On the one hand, 10Xers understand that they face continuous uncertainty and that they cannot control, and cannot accurately predict, significant aspects of the world around them. On the other hand, 10Xers reject the idea that forces outside their control or chance events will determine their results; they accept full responsibility for their own fate.

Are you a 10Xer?

Great by Choice