Compressing “Good” Work

October 23, 2006

I was recently on a GTD Connect teleseminar, and the speaker said something that I found fascinating – that the key to excellence is doing less “good” work.

His argument was that most of us spend something like 15% of our time goofing off, 70% of our time doing good/normal/routine/everyday work, and 15% of our time doing amazing, excellent, super-cool, WOW! projects. He noted that the “goof off” time is an inbuilt reflex – most people try to “discipline” their way into never goofing off, and that’s generally unsuccesful because you’re fighting an instinct.

So, he reasoned, the key to excellence in life is to compress the amount of “good” work that we do in order to expand the amount of time we have for excellent projects. This was his reason for doing GTD.

This reminds me of something Seth posted recently about layoffs and firings – that about 50 people get laid off for every one that gets fired for doing something amazing. (Dan posted about this topic as well). I’m sure that all of those people did “good” work. Seth points out:

At least once a day, I get mail from people worrying that if they are too remarkable, too edgy, too willing to cause change and growth… they’re risking getting fired. I almost never get mail from people who figure that if they keep doing the same boring thing day in and day out at their fading company that they’re going to lose their jobs in a layoff.

Imagine what life would be like if you could find a way to eliminate or compresss the “good” work to only 1/2 of the time it usually takes you today… what could you do if you put 50% of your time into your calling?

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2 Responses to “Compressing “Good” Work”

  1. terlin on October 24th, 2006 10:55 am

    I’ve always liked the job philosophy of “make your job obsolete.” In other words, work to automate, innovate, and otherwise eliminate the need for what you do. This process frees up your time to find new things to do, preferably ‘amazing’ things, as you point out. And if you find that you’ve elminated your value at the same time that you elminated your job, then it’s probably time to move on.

  2. Matthew Cornell on December 18th, 2006 5:20 pm

    Thanks for the nice insight. Something to think about…

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