Every day, every moment, we’re engaged in a dance with ourselves that revolves around three questions:
- What’s the best way to do this?
- What speed do I go?
- How do I know when it’s finished?
1. What’s the best way to do this?
There’s the way I’ve always done this, the way I did this yesterday, the way I know will work well enough.
Then there’s my ongoing tracking of whether this way is good enough, a dialogue with myself about whether it’s time to upgrade. This conversation is an outgrowth of my intuition, knowledge and research.
Every day, I can ask an answer a simple but important question: is today the day I start learning one small part of a better way to do what I do?
2. What speed do I go?
I know I shouldn’t be rushing; I can’t be if I’m going to do my best work.
At the same time, like a runner, I can, over time, get comfortable with faster, get comfortable with leaning a little more forward, get comfortable with a new pace.
While it might be hard to see our own progress in individual tasks, we also know that there are things we do in a minute today that took us five before. This means that there is a pace we can go tomorrow that feels risky, even dangerous today.
The trick here is to decouple the speed itself—the actual pace we’re going, the essential interplay between quality and throughput—and our experience of speed.
If we feel uncomfortable, that might mean we’re going too fast. Or it might be a barometer of our fear.
If our pace feels “just right” all the time, that might mean we’re not pushing hard enough.
3. How do I know it’s done?
This is hardest one of all, because we could always make it a little bit better, because that last finishing touch might be the difference between good and great.
Or it might be where we hide.
Hide from the fear of putting our work out there in front of a colleague or a client.
Hide from the moment when we say, “I did this, and I stand by this.”
Hide in the safety of knowing that “I’m just making it a little bit better” will rarely be criticized, even though the time I’m taking on this thing is taking away from time on the next thing.
How do I track my progress?
By remembering to ask myself these questions: Is there a better way? Could I go faster? When is it done?
By learning to switch between the dance floor and the balcony: to be in the action, and to see myself in the action. This is how we gain perspective.
But most of all, by regularly asking honest questions of our colleagues:
“This is my approach, how do you do it? Who’s the best at this? Could you, or they, teach me? Can I find a better answer online, in a course, in a community of practice?”
“Do you feel like I generally go the right pace, too fast, or too slow? Can you give me an example?”
“How good am I at following the 80/20 rule? When you get something from me, does it feel ‘good enough’ or ‘perfected’? This is how long the last 20% took me—does that seem like a good use of my time?”
We never get better in a vacuum.
Oh, and if learning to work in this way interests you, you might want to become part of our amazing team at 60 Decibels. I’m hiring an Inside Sales Associate to work closely with me, based in New York. The job posting just went up today, so spread the word!