Yesterday, NFL owner Dean Spanos walked into his San Diego office and told his staff that after 56 years they were moving the franchise to Los Angeles.
I’ve got pretty good instincts for making decisions. Think about it. We all do. We make hundreds of decisions each day as we navigate our daily life and the vast majority of them turn out just fine.
Every day I get about 250 emails.
It looks something like this:
- 125 of them I can delete straight away. Email marketing, social media notifications, stuff like that.
- 100 of them result in small tasks that I can deal with quickly. Purchases at our online store, questions in our Help Center, blog comments, stuff like that.
- 25 of them are things I have to actually deal with. Work-related stuff, personal stuff, you know… actual emails that take time and thought to respond to.
And that’s just email.
On top of email each day is filled with a myriad of other things to do in both my personal and professional life. Every day household tasks like watering plants, putting the dishes away, running errands, taking the kids to school, on and on. Ordinary work stuff beyond email like bookkeeping, shipping/receiving, and stuff like that.
And then there is the work stuff that actually is “what I do.“ (The stuff that actually feeds my family) For me, this time of year, that’s a lot of strategy and execution on somewhat complex projects. Complex projects with deadlines and expectations both externally and within myself.
Getting Stuff Done in the Age of the Edit Button
It’s that “what I do” stuff that I want to draw attention to right now.
The ordinary stuff with it’s routines and repetition is very important, I would argue that until you can manage that well you’ll never really succeed at the “what I do” stuff because it acts as the foundation for excellence you need to have the “what I do” stuff be really, really good. So let’s assume we’re managing that.
How do I get stuff done– on time and meeting internal/external expectations?
How do I avoid hurry up and hurry up some more?
How do I find contentedness with an ever-stacked todo list rushing me to the next thing?
By letting go of “perfect” to embrace “perfecting”.
By weighing “this is my absolute very best” against “this is the best I can do in the time this is worth, I can come back to it if I need to fix something.”
Sometimes you need to let things go that aren’t quite the way you’d like them.
This is one of the joys of today. Technology makes this possible.
I remember back in high school, in a race against the deadline, madly typing my thoughts into an electric typewriter until I’d hear it chirp. The single line liquid crystal screen would flash “Memory Full“. You’d double tap the return key and your thoughts would quickly type onto the page. CRAP! There’d be a typo and you’d have to use the correction tape or White Out to fix it.
The problem was that this process would break your concentration. You couldn’t ever really get into a writing flow because every couple of sentences you’d have to stop for corrections. I remember furiously writing down my next thoughts on paper I kept next to the typewriter so that I wouldn’t lose it.
Do you even remember Wite Out?
You don’t need it anymore.
Now you can just press “edit” and fix it.
Every day, when I write, I just let my thoughts flow. My Macbook doesn’t have tiny crystal screen that only stores 250 characters at a time. It doesn’t chirp “Memory Full” before forcing me to put my thoughts onto paper. (Heck, my thoughts rarely even end up on paper at all!) Instead, I freely type as fast as my fingers allow and if I make a mistake it either automatically corrects itself or I can go back later, click the “edit” button, and fix it.
Perfecting Instead of Perfect
It’s this letting go ability that I love. This knowledge of being able to edit later which allows me to be productive.
While I have perfectionist tendencies I can relax knowing that almost everything I do doesn’t have to be perfect when I finish it. Instead of being hung up on getting things perfect I can relax knowing that the work I do can be perfected later.
If you think about it that’s how most of the products and services you love work. Software constantly evolves, perfecting as developers learn new things, folding in new features that customers want. Movies and television screen their product to select audiences than perfect it, editing and re-editing, until it’s finally ready for public consumption. On and on, we now live in a world where the “edit” button frees us.
The question facing most of us is simple: Will we allow ourselves to set aside perfect for perfecting? Will we embrace the edit button in what we do? For most of us, in most professions, we don’t have to do our jobs perfectly. Instead, we can get better over time– even going backwards to fix our previous mistakes.
Let’s live in and embrace that freedom.
In the sport of baseball, small ball is an informal term for an offensive strategy in which the batting team emphasizes placing runners on base and then advancing them into scoring position for a run in a deliberate, methodical way. This strategy places a high value on individual runs and attempts to score them without requiring extra base hits, or sometimes without base hits at all, instead using bases on balls, stolen bases, sacrifice bunt or sacrifice fly balls, the hit-and-run play, and aggressive baserunning with such plays as the contact play. A commonly used term for a run produced playing small ball is a “manufactured run”. This style of play is more often found in National League game situations than in the American League due in large part to the absence of the designated hitter in the National League.
I don’t follow major league baseball. Heck, I don’t even follow little league baseball. (Or particularly like watching baseball!)
Winning vs. Entertainment
As a spectator sport, it takes a certain type of baseball fan to appreciate small ball. Americans like fast-moving entertaining baseball. We want to see homers, players running into one another in the outfield, and close plays at home.
But watching batter after batter take balls to get walked? Not so much.
So it’s a balancing act for professional baseball management. On the one hand small ball wins ballgames. On the other, winning doesn’t matter if fans don’t show up.
In professional sports there’s winning and there’s winning.
A Life of Small Ball
In the same way, American culture celebrates big, dramatic, and entertaining lives. We love it when someone does something big. Success looks like a stadium of people waiting to hear you speak or your creating something so big that you become a household name.
That– we suppose— is what success must look like.
Or is it?
- Is a big thing a success?
- Is success big?
- Is success external?
- And what does this success cost in relationship to other things?
Personally, I find going for the big home run to be more exhausting than the elation of the big moment. [Forget that fact that hitting a home run while losing the game isn’t much of a success.]
Let’s take this out of the ether of hypothetical. “What are you really talking about, McLane?”
I’ve turned a corned over the past couple of years. I’ve largely given up on the idea of going for big, ambitious, household-name-styled success and instead embrace a lifestyle of small ball.
I believe success comes as the result of more than a moment– though, at times, a moment exposes your success to a broad audience– instead, success is the result of a thousand good choices and behaviors.
In my personal life, I don’t need to be celebrated as a great dad or husband. Instead, I just want to be a great dad/husband by making a thousand good choices. It’s better to be healthy than to be seen as healthy while actually being unhealthy.
In the Cartel life, [a term we use informally to talk about leading The Youth Cartel] we aren’t interested in being big, with complex structures, large staff, and loads of property & products to manage. That’s someone else’s success, not ours. Instead, we feel like if we do a thousand things well/right/good the next thousand and the thousand after that will come to us. We’re not out to compete with anyone or put anyone down… we just want to do our thing in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for us.
The Impact of a Small Ball Life
When I travel for work people ask me about the impact of that on my family life. I suppose, if you don’t travel that much, that hanging out with someone who travels for work can feel like that must imply success. While I certainly like traveling and meeting new people, I see travel for work as just that… travel for work. It’s my job! I like to say, “My life is either really big– going cool places, meeting cool people, doing cool stuff– or really small. Outside of taking kids to school I work at home and so my life revolves around my family, house, and neighborhood.”
I like my “big life” and I like my “small life.”
But given the choice, I’ll take a thousand small successes over one big win, all day any day.