When I first started this site, I was super ambitious, and wrote a post for each weekly newsletter, as well as a full post for the blog, AND the work log each week.
All the original posts I wrote for the email newsletter have gone. I don’t have them on my hard drive anymore and the online backup was lost when I was forced to jump to another email service provider in a bit of a hurry, a couple of years ago.
However, I do have a handful of the titles of those essays that I came across. If It’s Working, Don’t Mess With It was one of those titles, which I thought was intriguing enough to write another post from scratch on the topic, and add it to the blog, where everyone can read it, not just newsletter subscribers.
If It’s Working, Don’t Mess With It.
There’s two aspects to this advice. The macro and the micro.
Whole Productivity Systems
These days, if you turn a degree to the left or right, you’ll end up facing a productivity expert, exhorting you to adopt their system and conquer the world.
I’ve lost count of the number of rabbit holes I’ve dived down, lured by the shiny promise of perfect productivity and lofty heights of success as a result.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done is an example of a meta system approach to productivity—his system covers every aspect of keeping your life organized and on the rails.
The problem with these whole-life-encompassing systems is two-fold:
- They’re a one-size-fits-all approach. No one works exactly the same way, or has a life that divvies up as neatly as the System’s. And some systems don’t work unless you follow them to the letter. Others are partially effective.
- They’re a shiny object. They promise success, effortless productivity, and an end to stress and overwhelm. Therefore, it’s easy to grab at them as THE solution to all your woes.
I used to do this a lot. I’d leap into the next shiny System, and spend hours, days or even weeks reorganizing my entire life to adapt to the new system, in anticipation of success and glory.
Productivity Elements, Ideas, Cool Hacks, etc.
These are the micro aspects you have to watch out for. And yes, also a weakness of mine. When combing through my RSS feed each morning at breakfast, I would often come across a really cool idea for improving the efficiency of…you name it. Getting more words written per hour, an easier way to format ebooks, a faster way to plot a novel, how to get a million blog post ideas in an hour, inbox zero tactics, morning rituals… The list is endless. For every aspect of an indie author’s life and business, there is someone out there with the absolutely essential hack for it.
I would come across one of these irresistible hacks and derail my writing for the day to set up the new idea and incorporate it into my daily routine. I would argue with myself that the gains in efficiency and productivity justified a day’s lost word count.
There’s only so many times you can tell yourself this and actually believe it.
Unfortunately, many of the hacks and ideas and Systems are effective. They’re brilliant ideas.
But that doesn’t mean you should take them onboard and disrupt your life to use them.
When should you use them? Easy: When something isn’t working.
But Maybe I Could Do It Better/Faster/More Effectively With This New Idea
That’s the lure of Productivity in general. It can be addictive and if you’re even mildly prone to procrastination, it becomes the perfect excuse to not do whatever you’re avoiding. And if you’re reading this blog, I’m pretty safe in assuming that what you most like to dodge is your writing.
There is a general mindset you can adopt that will help you avoid most of these shiny traps.
Reverse the Flow of Ideas
Don’t do what I did for years: I was subscribed to every productivity and efficient blog I knew of. I was subscribed to newsletters. I followed authors who were totally on top of writing 10K a day and liked to expound on how they did it. I was a member of productivity groups and chat boards.
It resulted in an avalanche of how-to information dropping on me daily. And from among that mountain of advice, I could always find something I just had to try…
Instead of letting the information wash over you, you should set yourself up to go and find the exact help and advice you need, when you need it. Research, read, get your answers and suggestions, then shut down the spigot once more.
Yes, I’m including even this blog in that stream of information.
You’ll know when you need to go looking for ideas and answers: When something in your business isn’t working, or its effectiveness has diminished to a point you’re just not happy with anymore.
Until then, if the way you’re doing xxx works for you, don’t mess with it. Don’t go looking for a new way of doing it that will take hours to implement, days or weeks to master, and only gain you a 10% improvement. It’s not worth the time-sink.
If you find yourself in the territory of a whole new System, resist the need to adopt it 100%. Just take from it the ideas that you need and forget the rest. For example, from Getting Things Done, I learned to set up a capture & collection system that I could sort through later, so that nothing was lost, dropped or overlooked. Other than that strategy, there is very little of David Allen’s system that I still use.
Often, Good-Enough is far, far better than Even-More-And-Better. It is light years better than Perfect, which doesn’t exist, yet some of us continue to reach for it. <clears throat>
An Approach for the Information Age
This idea of only reaching for information and ideas when you actually need them applies to more than just productivity and efficiency.
Given the tsunami of data and information that washes over us every single day, choosing to only wade into the current when you need to fish, grabbing just enough fish and heading to the bank is a sound strategy to avoid drowning (a.k.a. overwhelm). It will instantly de-stress your life and give you back a measure of control.
A corollary to this fishing metaphor is: Don’t try to catch all the fish.
Don’t get bogged down in research. Don’t be afraid you’ll miss out on the perfect idea if you don’t do all the research. Just find a solution. Any solution that sounds like it will fix the issue you’re facing. Then stop.
Will you miss out on a better idea? Possibly. Probably, actually. But if the solution you catch and use works for you, it doesn’t matter.
And those aspects of your business and your daily routine that are already working for you? Don’t mess with them.