Sometimes we make what appears to be a small change on paper but has a larger impact than we expect. For example, I made a modification to my work routine at the beginning of January. I expected it to be straightforward. All I needed to do was spend some time each week at a client’s office and observe.
It looks simple on paper.
However, over the past two months I discovered that it came with good, but very sticky, attention residue.
It’s not bad! I expected a degree of residue and built that into my new schedule.
What I miscalculated was its magnitude.
What went wrong?
Throughout the week my thoughts kept returning to the client’s office. They were all good and exciting things, but impacted my ability to focus on other projects.
Why did things go wrong?
I think because everything was a novel experience. It’s been years since I was last in an office for more than a meeting. Like a young child who just experienced an exciting playground, my brain wanted to talk about it. All the time. Through this repetitive rehashing of what I saw, I began to sort through, organize, and understand.
That’s great, but as anyone who has spent time near a young and talkative child knows, quiet is wonderful.
How am I fixing things?
I now have an extra buffer immediately surrounding the new routine.
It’s not a long one, five minutes to sit and mentally frame my goals and then to review afterwards, are helping.
In addition, I have set times later in the week, when I’m most mentally fatigued dedicated to reflecting on the new routine. I worked on this by pulling out my planning grid and figuring out when was best for me.
Stop being so vague!
On a weekday afternoon I observe the goings on in a client’s office. It takes me about a half hour to drive there, find parking, and get myself set up. The goal is to listen and identify issues where their technology isn’t being used optimally and explore other solutions to solve their business needs. While there, I take care of the things I’ve been doing for them already (primarily website maintenance) and pay attention to everything I can. It’s a win for both of us, I get to see technology being used naturally instead of the indirect feedback I often receive. They have dedicated access to me each week.
What I changed:
I now arrive at least five minutes early and sit in my car to write 3 quick items I want to understand that day and 3 other work items that are nagging at me (not for this client).
When I return to my car later in the day, I now repeat the exercise of 3 quick things I learned, 3 things I need to follow-up on, and any other work items that are buzzing around my brain. The next morning as I plan my day, I review these two lists and set an appointment for 15 minutes later in the day to think about this client.
3 tips for a successful small change
While a change may look small, it can have impacts that you may not recognize right away. When making a small change to your work:
- Keep a very detailed time log of your day/week. I use a digital timer for this. I also made notes as to my mood/energy levels.
- Set aside extra time to review and reflect on your day/week.
- Examine priorities and make changes. While writing here is something I think is beneficial to my business goals, I knew taking a few weeks off was better than stressing about what I contributed.
- How I work: cleaning attention residue (posted 2016-04-20)
- thoughts on Deep Work (posted 2018-09-21)
- Excerpt from Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work (at Hacker Noon)