I realized something a couple of days ago by reading an article that came as a sort of a wake-up call for me: being productive doesn’t necessarily make you an accomplished person!
I will elaborate on that so it makes little more sense to you:
There’s a common phrase I use quite often (especially at work) to describe the thing where you pretend to do something by acting as if you were really doing it, but never actually getting it done. It’s called going through the motions.
It amazes me how often we find ourselves inadvertently going through the motions of achieving things, doing everything we know we’re supposed or told to do, but eventually not reaching the finish line, or reaching it a bit too late.
I wasn’t aware of how guilty I am of this until I started my current job a couple of years ago and started to learn about the environment and work culture. Two years down the road, I’ve realized that what we actually do here at the company is far from trying to get projects done. We obsess very little about end results and a lot more about methodologies, frameworks, work policies, clearing our responsibilities and basically just getting the ball on to the other side.
Make no mistake, we do like to feel accomplished, and we’re actually getting paid to do so. But we’re lousy at that, and you know why? Because we think that by going through the motions of working on various projects, clearing many seemingly important tasks, being all productive and punctual, we’re bound to drive projects to the finish line. The only problem is, we usually don’t. Our projects carry on for years (I’m not exaggerating!). So what is it we’re doing wrong? Or to put it in a more general way:
How does going through the motions of accomplishing things not help us accomplish them?
Speaking for myself, I have always thought that by being productive, for instance, I should see flow of results and accomplishments. After all, I have just the right system, with just the right calendar technology, and to-do notebook, and task management philosophy. I can just turn the system on and watch it churn out what needs to be done.
What I didn’t realize though is that productivity is overrated. It’s not the goal but the means to an end. And so are all the other things that we do that don’t bring us that much closer to seeing our projects through.
It takes a really critical eye to spot those things, and it takes guts and bravery to decide that we’re no longer doing them, but instead focusing on more important things or tasks that are sure to drive our projects home.
I’ll give you few examples to make my point a little more concrete. I’ll draw from my own experiences at work or in my personal life, and I welcome you to share your own in the comments.
But despite what’s mentioned above, the road to really being accomplished starts with you knowing what makes an accomplished person or company.
To quote the author of the article that inspired this post:
From my experience, the most common trait you will consistently observe in accomplished people is an obsession with completion. Once a project falls into their horizon, they crave, almost compulsively, to finish it. If theyâ€™re organized, this might happen in scheduled chunks. If theyâ€™re not â€” like many â€” this might happen in all-nighters. But they get it done. Fast and consistently.
Itâ€™s this constant stream of finishing that begins, over time, to unlock more and more interesting opportunities and eventually leads to their big scores.
I took liberty of highlighting certain keywords in the quote that, when put together, gives you the traits of this species:
What connects all of the above traits, which is also the point I’d like to make in this post, is the following observation:
To be an accomplished person, you have to see each and every task you do for a project in light of the expected project outcome. If it should contribute significantly to what you’re trying to accomplish, then go for it. Otherwise, skip it altogether or replace it with something more likely to get you there faster. Never go through the motions of accomplishing your project by performing needless or marginally significant tasks. Always crave to reach the finish line, or at least before that turtle does :)
In that inspirational post titled: The Art of the Finish: How to Go From Busy to Accomplished, guest writer Cal explains an overly simple framework for cultivating a passion and dedication for accomplishment.
I’ll be personally giving this framework a shot over the coming months. However, I may have a preference towards keeping the list described in the framework in a digital format using my PDA rather than plain paper, because I’m a fan of carrying less things around and making the most use of what I already have.
The truth is that being accomplished is hard work. It’s not pretty. If you really want join the elite group of accomplished people, then you have to be willing to put in whatever effort necessary to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whilst avoiding unnecessary diversions.
OK, enough serious talk. Time for some words fun.
I’ve told you how we use the phrase “going through the motions” a lot at work to vent off our frustration with the system. Well, we also came up with a whole list of abbreviations and derivative words for that: (dictionaries aside please)