Work on what you need to know next year
All through my working career I’ve noticed that the best people are both incredibly focussed and easily distracted. Which doesn’t make sense, until you remember that in many areas of work (especially high end knowledge work) demands are rarely smooth. The best people focus intensely on the demands of today, when the needs of today are important and all consuming, and they focus on what they will need to know next year when they are less so.
Put another way they focus on today during the peaks and tomorrow during the troughs.
Some people will counter that there’s never enough time for the demands of today, even in the troughs, but I’d argue that such people need to learn the difference between important and urgent and need to learn how to say no, or to delegate.
People who work in the troughs on what they need to know tomorrow are prepared for the important work of the future, other people are prepared for only the urgent work of the past.
Most every day has troughs, they might be when you’re driving to work (time to listen), walking the dog (time to think), needing a rest mid afternoon or over lunch or often late at night (time to tinker) when you need to work away the pressures of today with a little of tomorrow.
Google of course has tried to institutionalise this in there 25% time and many others have copied. Even without the institutional backing though managers can affect the culture within their own teams. Fostering a collective responsibility to balance delivering today and preparing for the future. Don’t confuse what I’m talking about with formal training courses though, I’m talking more about research, innovation and tinkering.
Of course no ones really knows what they will need to know next year, so you have to make some strategic bets. A good strategy is always resilient to the uncertainties in the situation, but always aligned to the long term objectives. That’s the approach I always recommend.
This concept has a huge role to play in my own life. As I only work 10 hours a week I need to already be prepared with most of the knowledge and skills that those 10 hours will demand. I know I won’t have time to learn on the job, so I need to learn before the job.
Fortunately I have plenty of time to learn, and learning in advance of the need is a rewarding and stress free activity whereas learning at the same time as the need is a stressful activity.
Colleagues often ask me how I manage to get so much done in so little time, the answers easy, I prepared last year.