The 5 Commandments of GETTING SH*T DONE
Don’t you hate it when everyone seems to have more time than you to get sh*t done? How do they do it?
Over the last 2 years my business partner and I have had something verging on a spiritual experience of collaboration and productivity. As part of this, we coined various phrases that help us stay on top of things and do everything we need to do. I’d love to share them with you.
Read on to learn our 5 commandments of getting sh*t done.
1. Light Touch
“Do we have to keep talking about the big decision? Can’t we just take a light touch?” That’s what Simon, my business partner, said to me when we were having a Big Conversation™ about the future of our business. The moment he asked it felt like all the stress and anxiety of our decision melted away. The future was exciting again. Of course we could take a light touch!
Stress is a huge challenge and it creeps in so easily you might not notice. From things you have to do to things you should have done, things you promised to do to things you really don’t want to do but can’t avoid. We end up getting fixated on solving everything, “trying to boil the ocean” as Simon likes to say, rather than just taking things one step at a time.
When you’re in the thick of a problem, when you’re feeling anxious, ask yourself “Can I take a light touch?”. Challenge yourself to find that little thing you can do that takes a small step. Focus on doing that and learning from it before thinking further on the topic. If you’re lucky, having done that little thing, your situation will have gotten easier and in time might even feel manageable.
Having a light touch is about focusing on what’s in front of you and learning as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about what’ll happen in 5 years time or all of the “what if?” scenarios if you make the wrong decision. Get a simple option in front of you and go for it. The simpler and smaller it is, and the fewer dependencies it has, the easier your life will be.
2. Learn First
Do you remember that classic Microsoft line “What do you want to do today?”. A lot of jobs seem to be about doing. Move that pen, type on that keyboard, sign that document, answer that phone. But how do you know it’s worth doing it? If it doesn’t give you any value, what are you doing it for?
I’ve seen this time and time again when an organisation decides to implement an “essential” feature in their product. Why is it essential? Because our major competitors have it, or because it’s the big trend right now or because the Marketing Director says so. How do you argue with that?
The idea behind “learn first” is to learn as quickly and simply as humanly possible whether or not you’re going in the right direction. Figure out what your goal is and learn whether or not you’re going to achieve it. Once you move from doing to learning it can be surprising how quickly you make progress. “Do people want this feature?” Run a survey, advertise the feature and see who signs up, do some market research. All of these things will usually be quicker and less investment than building something.
So let’s spin that Microsoft line around and make it new: “What do you want to learn today?”. Learning is the key to personal development, fulfillment and career growth. Place it centre stage! First thing every morning agree with your team “What shall we learn today?”.
It can be an intense, tiring way of working but it’s worth it! It solves so many prioritisation issues. Start by identifying your riskiest assumption and then create and run an experiment to prove or disprove it. Don’t wonder about what you don’t know, learn it!
3. Get In Early
When I was a kid, 6 years old, a teacher was telling us what to do next in class. I didn’t catch it and neither did my friends. They turned to me and asked “What are we supposed to do now?”. Without hesitation I put my hand up. “Miss, what did you ask us to do?”
The teacher flipped out. She grabbed me by the ear and dragged me onto a nearby table. “This child doesn’t know what to do next.” she screamed. “Would someone please tell him?”
Is it any surprise that a lot of people prefer to hold on to their thoughts rather than come clean? But rather than put me off, this event did the opposite. I’ve never been afraid to admit I don’t know something and I’ve discovered something amazing as a result. The sooner you admit what you don’t know, the more people respect you. Seems crazy, right?
Take one dose of light touch and then get in as early as possible. “Get what in early?” Whatever is on your mind. Open your mouth, speak up, write something, draw something, code something, design something, build something. The sooner you start, the better.
The problem is when we’re not getting on with things we paralyse ourselves with what might happen. The very act of dealing with problems and worries as soon as possible removes one of the major causes of anxieties: uncertainty. The sooner you start, the sooner you can deal with your actual problems.
4. Write Sh*t
One day, 10 years ago, I was bored at work. I wrote an email to my sister with a random, off-the-top-of-my-head story introduction. Some crazy stuff about a cloud of fate drifting towards a human target and arriving through their window. I sent it.
She didn’t know what I was on about and I had to explain, “It’s the beginning of a story. You write the next bit”. And so she did, and immediately with so little effort on my part I was gifted inspiration. She had bounced off my work and come up with something new. As I read it, worlds appeared in my head and I effortlessly saw 100s of directions the story could go in. But I only needed one. I replied with the next installment.
When you have a blank page or you’re only thinking about what you’re going to write, you have almost nothing. Everything’s murky, everything lives in “What if?” territory. A peculiar feature of “What if?” is that thoughts are maddeningly circular. Like wandering in a forest seeing a branch for the fifth time before asking yourself “Am I lost?”.
The moment you write something (or build it, say it, draw it) you’ve got something to chew on and digest. You can move from uncomfortable to gloriously comfortable in no time at all. From thinking “I’m a bad writer, I can’t think of anything, it has to be perfect”, to “I love reading this, that’s fun but how about…?, I know the next bit I’ll just finish it”.
There’s an amazing feature of “Write sh*t” that might not be obvious until you combine it with “Light touch”. When you write something, you don’t have to care about it or be attached to it. The less attached you are, the more willing you are to tear it up, replace it, improve it. You’ll be more willing to let other people tear it down.
Write sh*t is at the heart of these commandments. I urge you not to underestimate its power.
5. Good Enough
Good enough is about looking at what you’ve got and asking “Is this good enough?”. Forget about obsessive polishing, perfection is for immortals. For us humans, it’s about results. Good enough is knowing when you’re done, which is usually when you’re done learning.
Here’s a thought experiment for you: You’ve got a paper to write. You write complete sh*t as quickly as possible, covering the major topics and some key points. If it accomplishes its task would you feel happy turning it in? Or do you really need to do all of that planning, polishing and organising that you were thinking had to be done to write a good paper?
Where does quality fit in? Is it okay to turn in poor work? The wonderful thing it is, it’s up to you. What’s good enough is your decision and using the other commandments your options are right in front of you. Once you’ve decided what to Learn First, with a Light Touch you can Get In Early and Write Sh*t. If it’s not Good Enough you can Write More Sh*t to give yourself options.
The trick is to crank the lever and iterate. Repeat until your work is good enough. And in my experience a regular stream of good enough is the antidote to a maybe, one day, perhaps it might be perfect.