Productivity Lie #2: Do it well or not at all

What productivity lies are you telling yourself? Do it well or not at all? Yes that's a big one...


I’m struck by an early recollection of myself: heavy full fringe, two long low ponytails hanging over my school blazer-covered shoulders while I sit on a hard, cold wooden school bench looking up. My big blue eyes meet those of the teacher. In my seven-year-old mind, she’s a hero, mentor and God and she says, “Do it well, or don’t do it at all”. Pressure more than anyone should have to bear and yet, bam, a newly indoctrinated belief that I’d carry for many years to come.

My new belief was re-formed while reading a note in my then young son’s homework book. A message from his teacher had been penned on the limited lines: ‘Ryland needs to take more time with his work; it’s rushed and untidy.’ With his sharp mind and quick tongue a “Do it well or not at all” lecture would have likely got me nowhere and him doing nothing. Instead, we spoke of pride, respect and self-worth as a motivation for delivering neater, more mindful schoolwork. While I’m grateful that that seemed to do the trick, more so for the neatness part … he still rushes for the final full stop, my daughter, on the other hand, is proving to be the exact opposite of my son. She is particular and precise. She spends hours writing, erasing and re-writing. This sense of perfection causes anxiety, guilt and overwhelm. Either way, lie #2 fails to serve them, or my many clients, well.

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #2: Do it well or don’t do it at all

Think about it, if you are a perfectionist like my daughter and many of our individual coaching clients, your greatest fear is that you won’t be perfect, right? A self-imposed self-sabotage strategy considering everyone’s ‘perfect’ is different and often the reason for no action, missed deadlines and lost opportunities. You are waiting, waiting, waiting for the ideal opportunity, time slot, weather, age or circumstance where you can do it well. In the meantime, you don’t do anything at all.

And then there is the flipside. More like my son, the big picture, creative, detail dodging type of person who does what needs to be done sans fanfare, pomp and ceremony. Everything gets ticked off your to-do list as you move swiftly on to the next thing, Detail missing – but done.

While I’m only focusing on the extreme, the reality is that we need a bit of both personalities in us. You need the knowledge, wisdom and discipline to know what and when your full attention is required, where the detail is of value and frankly, where it is not.

The three things you can do right now

Be selective

Regardless of your organisational style or personality, whether you are more like my daughter or my son (or somewhere in between), refining what deserves your full attention and what doesn’t, is a skillset well worth developing. In my experience though, before you can get close to making wise decisions as to what these choices should be, you need to get clarity on two things:

Why was I hired? A silly little question which might get you brushing it off, but take a moment to get some clarity here. Assuming it’s not only because of your good looks and charisma, what were you hired to do and from that, where are you of highest value to your team/company? Refer back to your employment contract for a moment or review your actions over a week or month and literally jot down a list of everything you do (and are supposed to do). Once you have that long list, rate what tasks are of highest value to your organisation. Once you have your version of an answer to this, take it to your colleagues/boss to get their opinion. Chasing a false assumption here is not going to help anyone, least of all yourself. Having clarity on the other hand, will help you refine what deserves your full attention and what doesn’t.
What are my goals? Now that you’ve defined your core and most valuable roles in your company, what about what you want for yourself? A huge question if you are not yet inclined to doing regular goal setting, but by defining what it is you want to achieve, you can constantly check in and ask “Does this task bring me closer to reaching my goal?” and if the answer is ‘No’, well, even though you might still need to do it, do you need to do it well?
Goal setting 101: I’ve made goal setting a habit since 2001. Having tried numerous goal setting methodologies, the one I find easiest (particularly if you are a newbie) is the 100-1-3 methodology. Let me explain:

100: Start with a list of desires. Dreams if you like. What do you want to achieve that you have not yet achieved? Think: mental (work, education, finance), physical (exercise, fitness), emotional (friends, self, family, anything materialistic like fast cars and travel), and spiritual (charity, spirituality). Don’t worry about being realistic or the probability of them happening at this stage, just list down anything and everything you might want to happen till you can absolutely think of nothing more. The bigger you think, the more fun it is. Your aim is to have at least 100 things listed!
1: Once you’ve pushed your thoughts to the limit, review your list and highlight the single thing you that absolutely must have happen. Your most important and exciting desire, the one that gets your tummy butterflies flying out of formation.
3: Now list your first 3 actions required to make this dream part of your reality. Diarise these actions and review, tweak and monitor your progress weekly.

80% is enough

Knowing why you were hired and what your goals are, helps separate your ego from the action. Being in the business of saying ‘Yes’ to everything sabotages your time, leaving you unfulfilled and for the better part, feeling compromised or disappointed. But what if after your keen refining you are still left with things needing your attention, even though they don’t contribute to your great plan of world domination, nor drive your team to greater success? It’s just the way things are.

A friend who erred on perfectionism once shared this wisdom that I in turn am sharing with you. She was referring to the tasks that were of low value but still required action, the ones that took time away from her reaching her goals or fulfilling her core work responsibilities. She said “at the end of every day you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, pat yourself on the back and say; ‘80% is enough. Well done girlfriend.’ This is great advice; take it, use it, and know deeply that where the task does little to drive you forward, giving it 100% is honestly not perfect.

Change your language

What self-talk do you have swimming in your head? What beliefs are you holding onto that are holding you back? Analyse this for a while; listen to what you say and what you do. Watch your knee-jerk reactions when asked to complete certain types of tasks. Do you instinctively roll your eyes or shift the task to the bottom of your list? Is there a pattern? The language you use affects your belief patterns. Like tricking yourself into eating that chocolate bar because you need it, or working through the night because you believe there are no alternatives. What are you manifesting as your own reality when indeed it’s not necessarily true. Never mind “Do it well or don’t do it at all”, sometimes “Do it and get it done” is all that’s required.

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