It’s no fun to go around in circles, redoing work you’ve already done.1 But it’s all too easy to do just that—to follow the comfortable grooves of habit and continue working in ways that pass unquestioned.
The Prospects and Problems of Work Habits
Such habits can be helpful. They keep you from having to decide any number of things afresh each time you prepare for class, write a paper, or check your inbox. And by lifting need for those decisions, those habits can help you work more efficiently.
But as Peter Drucker astutely observes,
There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.2
In the moment, it’s almost always easier to run along a well-worn, comfortable path toward a certain outcome. The only problem is that, if you simply follow your existing work habits, you’ll then need to follow them again and again.
You’ll be bypassing the work of improving your process, of honing your craft.
The Value of Questioning Work Habits
But what would happen if you recognized how parts of some habits are actually things you shouldn’t be doing? What would happen if you could automate them or, better yet, eliminate them entirely while still achieving the same outcome?
In short, what would happen if you consistently asked the question
What could I do today that would give me more time tomorrow?3
Whatever you might decide to do doesn’t have to be big. It could be quite small and constitute, say, a 1% improvement. But if you adopt it as a daily practice, the results will compound over time.4
So, don’t keep redoing the same work without thinking about how you’re doing it. Don’t begin with the assumption that how you do what you do is the best way you could ever do it.
Instead, look for how you can simplify, streamline, or automate how you do what you do. You shouldn’t try to overhaul everything at once.
But if you make gradual improvements over time, bit by bit, you’ll find you’re freer to focus and make progress on what really matters.5
Peter F. Drucker, “Managing for Business Effectiveness,” Harvard Business Review 41.3 (1963): 53–60. ↩
For articulating this general principle, if not the precise question, I’m grateful to Rory Vaden, Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time (New York: Perigee, 2015). ↩
E.g., see James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (New York: Avery, 2018). ↩
See also Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019). ↩