In the previous article of the series, I talked about motivation and how it is overrated. You don’t need motivation to achieve your goals. You just need to get started. I also talked about the importance to focus on the right things. You don’t need motivation as long as you work on the things that are important to you. Truly important.
Now let’s look at the arch-enemy of achievement. Distractions. Especially in the 21st century, it seems we are trying very hard to be distracted. Just look at the fast-pace of our lives, the endless stream of information we need to understand, the numerous ways we invent to stay in touch with others. The always-be-connected nature of our lives is not only making us often miserable as we are chasing the ever elusive happiness but also makes it pretty much impossible to focus on what is essential.
Cal Newport in his book Deep Work defines the term “shallow work” as a non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks that can be performed while distracted. It is the type of work that even though might be needed doesn’t create much new value and is easy to replicate.
It is the type of work robots will be doing in the future. It is the type of work you spend most of your time on because it is comfortable. You can do it while being at Facebook. You can do it even when every other minute checking emails. You can do it in a noisy distracting environment of 21st office space.
However, it is not the type of work that leads to fulfillment. It is not the type of work that leads to significant achievements and to you leaving a legacy.
One of the biggest contradiction in modern technology are all the tools focused on improving communication. All the instant messaging tools that allow you to reach out to other individuals in real time to get your answers sound like a gift from heaven. In fact, it is a gift from hell. It acts as constant distraction thus preventing you from focusing and producing stellar work.
What is worse it makes you lazy. The more we rely on email and instant communication option the lest we are forced to think ahead. We tend to plan less, predict less, and ultimately, we introduce much more chaos into the workplace and into our lives. If you couldn’t rely on instant responses, you would be forced to be more diligent in your planning.
You need to focus
Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner published a paper discussing the results of their research into the impact of social media and multitasking on the human brain. It showed that the constant switching between tasks that addiction on social media causes has a profound and lasting effect on the way your brain operates. The brain plasticity is a great thing that can help you become more, but it can also severely inhibit your abilities if you abuse it.
As Clifford Nass points out those of us, who multitask all the time can’t easily distinguish what is relevant and what is not. Their relevancy filter in their head just doesn’t work. They have troubles staying focused even if they want to. Their brain activates many areas that are not relevant to the task at hand, and they are just constantly distracted. The worst thing is that they don’t realize it. It is very similar to addiction.
To survive and even thrive in the knowledge-based economy you need two key abilities. You need to be able to learn and quickly master new skills. And you need to be able to produce work at a high level in terms of quality and speed. With these two skills, you can beat the competition and get rewarded. In fact, this applies to both companies competing on the market with their products, as well as for individuals competing on the job market with their skills and experiences.
Knowledge itself is not enough. You may be the most knowledgeable person, but if you can’t produce, if you don’t deliver results, it is the same as if didn’t have the knowledge at all.
If you can’t focus, you won’t be able to learn as fast as others. If you can’t concentrate, you won’t be able to produce results at speed and with high quality. It is that simple. Focus is the road to success.
To help focus, learn the ability to delay gratification. If you are someone who is constantly getting distracted by short-term enjoyment, you won’t achieve anything significant. Being able to say no to Facebook, TV, unhealthy food, or anything that provides you with short-term happiness will allow you to have your priorities straight. People who are able to delay gratification are more likely to persevere, more likely to overcome fear and obstacles. They are grittier.
To fulfill your goal may take many years. You don’t want to wait for the satisfaction that long, but you also don’t want to rely on getting your enjoyment from distractions. Learn to find happiness and joy in the daily discipline, in the small wins along the way, in the actual journey. Every time you get a bit better, a bit closer to your goal is a good time to feel good about your achievements.
Put in the effort
I had numerous conversations over the years of managing and coaching people about them not getting the opportunities some selected people got. They felt that they were getting skipped for promotions, got assigned only tedious work, were being poorly paid. “It is not fair towards me, Jake just got promoted, and I didn’t.”
Very rarely these people consider that they are being treated the same way as most of the other employees. Only Jake is being treated differently and is promoted. Why? Most likely because he decided to act differently from the other employees. He went above and beyond, gave it more effort, and got the rewards.
I hate the ever-present motto of “work smarter, not harder.” Sure, work smarter, why not. Finding more effective and efficient ways to get things done is always helpful. But don’t exchange it for working harder. The only way to achieve more than others is to work harder than they do. It is only up to you to figure out whether it is worth it, but if you are not willing to put in the effort, then don’t complain about your perceived misfortunes.
Shortcuts don’t work
If you want to accomplish something significant, something that very few people achieve, you need to behave differently than those other people. If you want to run a marathon, build a successful business, rise to the top of your organization, you need to give it the priority, the focus, and the effort it deserves.
You need to be willing to make sacrifices that others are not willing to make. As the saying goes, you can’t eat your cake and have it too. If your priority is to rise quickly in the ranks of your organization, you can’t expect to have the same work-life balance as others. You need to outwork the others, and that will cost you time and effort.
Working hard and making sacrifices are parts of the success. The good news is that it doesn’t need to feel that way. It doesn’t need to feel that you are making sacrifices. The hard work doesn’t need to feel like hard work. You can find some pleasure in it.
Trying to find shortcuts and workarounds to hard work can sometimes work for simple tasks, but it won’t work when you need to acquire skills difficult to master. It also has a somewhat adverse effect. Since you are not getting the skills and experience, you are not increasing confidence in your abilities. You will just feel lucky that you found a workaround this time and hope for the same in the future. Instead of working hard to get the skill and with it the competence and confidence that you can repeat the same time without a problem in the future if the need arises.
I have to repeat this. Work smarter, not harder is such a cliché. And it is wrong. Yes, you should try to find ways how to work smarter, but there is no way around working hard, being focused, and removing distractions.
What are your thoughts on how motivation work? How do you remove distractions from your life? Do you believe that hard work is what distinguished the successful individuals from others?
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