Do Less But With More Focus

“Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.”

That is a quote from a post on the Study Hacks blog about a study done on elite musicians to see if there was any correlation between the amount of practice time vs the ability of that musician. The study found that all of the elite musicians spent about the same amount of time practicing every week. Butthe most accomplished musicians were the ones that spent a larger percentage of that practice time performing very difficult tasks that pushed their abilities on a daily basis, not just simple practice exercises. Those same musicians that performed the more challenging practices also conducted those practice sessions at two specific times in the day, once in the morning and once in the evening, while the average players spread thier practice times out evenly throughout the day. The study also found that the elite players on average slept an hour more per night than the lesser players and had more leisure time each day. The elite players were found to be much more relaxed.

So what does all of this mean for the rest of us? The message I take away from this is that it is more productive to have a shorter more intense or difficult session than multiple less intense sessions when you are planning a difficult activity. Sleep and relaxation is also very important. In our increasingly digital and always connected lives it is harder and harder for us to disconnect and truly relax and it could very well be having a negative impact on our productivity. So do less, but with a more intense focus and then get busy relaxing. If you need some inspiration for those intense sessions give this Wall Street Journal article a read. Even if you aren’t a cyclist this story about Taylor Phinney’s determination to finish a stage despite knowing he would finish dead last might give you a little push to focus just a bit harder. Taylor didn’t save anything for the swim back…

Steve Jobs Leadership Lessons

I attended a Harvard Business Review webinar today featuring Walter Isaacson, the author of the Steve Jobs biography. Mr. Isaacson's talk centered on the leadership style of Steve Jobs and the lessons that can be taken away from both the failures and successes of Steve Jobs. Mr. Isaacson covered many different topics during the talk, but three of them really stuck out in my mind.

The first take away for me was that Steve did not read or take stock in leadership books, rather he loved to read about the entire history of an individual. Why? Because leadership is not a one size fits all solution. The entire person's history, belief system and personal flaws all need to be taken into account when looking at how they lead. Does this mean that leadership books have no value? Of course not, but it does stress the importance of what Paul Harvey would call "the rest of the story."

The next thing that caught my attention was a discussion about how Steve would spend a typical day. Steve was brutal about the way he whittled his day down to just a few key things he would focus on. If Steve wasn't "into" something that day, you were NOT going to get his attention tuned to that topic or activity. Steve was also well known for discouraging the use of PowerPoint slides in a meeting. Not because he had something against the format (or the company behind it...ok maybe he did), but because he believed if you truly knew what you were talking about you didn't need slides. This also came out in the way Steve would plan (or not plan) regular meetings. While at Pixar Steve specifically crafted the layout of the main building to facilitate "serendipitous" meetings. You know, those really productive run-ins you have in the hallway with a co-worker that results in more productivity in those short 5-minutes than the entire rest of your day. This concept was also applied to the regular weekly meetings that were held, which were done so without an agenda. With an open agenda the meeting could be used to address the hot topic of that moment rather than the topic thought most important days ago when the agenda was created. My day at work today is proof positive that these tactics work. I spent most of my day out of my office talking with people across the organization. Not only did I accomplish everything I set out to do but I also gained information I didn't know I needed. That one piece of intel I unintentionally gained may be the difference between success and failure for me on this task and I wouldn't have obtained it if I hadn't allowed a conversation to naturally stray off topic. Maybe this is proof that spontaneity can be planned, or at least strategically encouraged.

The final lesson I took away from today's webinar was what Walter Isaacson deemed the most important thing he learned by writing about Steve, and that is the importance of passion. Steve learned an important lesson as kid from his father while painting a fence, which was that the beauty of the back of the fence was just as important as the front. Even though nobody would ever see the back of that fence, Steve and his Dad would know what it looked like. If you take that much pride in your work (even the invisible parts) that pride will show through on the parts that everyone can see. This plays into something I have always tried to live by...if something is worth doing then it is worth doing well.

So in true Steve Jobs fashion I have just "one more thing." Steve coined the phrase "stay hungry, stay foolish," which essentially means have the courage to be willing to fail. This ties back to my previous post about not saving anything for the swim back.

The audio from the Steve Job Leadership Lessons Webinar can be found here

Why "1WaySwim"?

"1WaySwim" is a reference to my favorite movie Gattaca. Spoiler alert...if you haven't seen the movie stop reading now! A running theme in the movie is a contest that the two brothers in the movie do as a way to prove which of the brothers in the stronger swimmer. The challenge...both brothers jump into the ocean and start swimming out away from shore. The first person to give up and turn back to shore is the loser. The oldest brother Anton is by far more athletic and can out-perform his younger brother Vincent any day of the week, so Vincent is always the one turning back first and returning to shore. However, in one of the final scenes of the movie Vincent challenges his older brother Anton to one last swimming contest and wins! At the point Anton realizes that his younger weaker brother is out-swimming him he yells ahead and asks his brother how he is doing this. Vincent replies, "You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back." At this point Anton is scared of failing and scared he might not have the strength to swim all the way back to shore so he gives up. That fear gripped him so hard his body failed him on the return swim and he began to drown. Vincent had to save Anton.

So what does this have to do with me? I don't believe in doing anything half way. If you are going to put forth the effort to do it right and give it everything you have. Don't hold anything in reserve for the swim back! Vincent realized that his will to win was enough to beat his brother who was a much stronger swimmer because Vincent was willing to pour his heart and soul into that swim. In the end it wasn't Anton's strength that failed him, rather it was his fear of failure. We can't be afraid to fail. Failure is only truly a failure when it keeps you from trying again. We all need to learn to harness some of that intensity and focus that Vincent put into that swim and apply it to our everyday lives.


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