Wow, look at that. It’s Friday.
“But, I thought Becoming Superhuman came out on Thursdays?”
If that’s what you were just thinking, then you are, in fact, quite perceptive.
But there is a deliberate reason this was published one day late, which will make sense by the end.
What do you mean?
I spend a good deal of time consulting and coaching others about how to get more done, individually and as a team.
One of the first steps our team takes at Super Productive when working with a new client, is to understand their relationships to time, tasks, and priorities. We need to understand how they think of those variables, which later enables us to advise them based on how they approach work.
These conversations inevitably lead to a discussion about a very important question:
What does it mean here to say that something is DUE?
You might think that “due” has a singular meaning, but it actually doesn’t. By definition, it is simply when something is expected.
But…expected by whom, exactly? Further, what are the consequences of those expectations failing to be met? Are all things expected actually required at the expected time? For something we often think of as clear cut and objective, the deeper we dig into the concept of when something is due, the more murky it becomes.
To illustrate this, let’s imagine that two projects are due at the same time but only enough time and resources are available to complete one. Which do you select? Both are categorized as due.
- Do you select the one with greater revenue potential?
- Do you select the one with the more difficult personality expecting it?
- Do you pick the work you enjoy doing more?
- Perhaps you should pick the one where the failure to meet the due date creates negative downstream consequences?
How do you make your decision? Through a certain lens, the answer is obvious. If you wish to advance your objectives, then your decisions must be based on importance. Under conditions of scarcity, the wise choice is made according to priority.
Therefore, in practice, what’s “due” really should mean “the most important things that people are expecting, that I/we have time to deliver.” This is a stark difference from “everything that everyone is expecting.”
Importance matters when managing our time and tasks.
So, the first step for any organization is to get really clear about what “due” really means.
But, there’s still more to this story…
Terms of Distinction
Urgency is something that requires immediate attention. This represents a combination of importance and a rapidly approaching due date or time.
The problem in many organizations is a failure to distinguish what is truly important, thereby collapsing importance into the definition of due resulting in everything feeling urgent. While some might argue that creating this intense sense of urgency will result in a higher output, the truth is almost always the exact opposite. Let me paint you a picture with broad brush strokes.
Many folx with ADHD, like me, have spent much of their lives working on things at the last minute as our relationship to time is often strained and our ability to prioritize may be limited. Despite what many throughout our lives would suggest, this isn’t a product of laziness but rather due to a dopamine deficiency that causes us to unintentionally manufacture a crisis to kickstart our brains into action. For this to work, we have to be keenly aware of the true urgency of something, else our brains find the loophole to avoid working on it until it truly is urgent.
So, when the concept of importance is insufficiently defined, due dates artificially manufactured, and urgency transparently contrived, we may begin to operate as if nothing is ever truly urgent.
Move to the opposite side of the spectrum, and you may find someone who, regardless of the importance of the task, will take each item on the list at face value, assigning importance to it and working themselves until they burn out to complete everything. It’s not long before your star players are sleep deprived and job hunting.
So, when the concept of importance is insufficiently defined for those who are more neurotypical or motivated by accolades and accomplishment, perhaps everything becomes urgent.
In both cases, a lack of clarity about importance causes things to break down. Effective productivity, the kind where everyone is operating at their maximum potential, requires transparency, communication, and accommodation, not homogeneity.
The second step for every organization, is to define what is important so work that is due, can be properly understood by all members of the team, regardless of how their brains work.
One Day Late
So why did I publish this one day late?
I did it because while publishing every Monday and Thursday is my self-assigned due date, I had several things that were also “due” but more important this week, and therefore more urgent. Under no circumstances should that be read to suggest that posting is not important to me, but rather that there is both a scale of importance and a limit on available time.
Which brings me to the point of deliberately posting this one day late.
I could’ve stayed up (even later) and pumped out a post to get it done on time. But, here’s what I know… The world won’t end because I publish a day late. And if you really look at your task list — most likely — the world won’t end if you miss a lot of those due dates.
We’ve constructed an entire culture of work that:
- penalizes people for being 5 minutes late when nothing important is going on;
- pumps people full of cortisol from fire drills over projects, reports, and deliverables that no one is actually waiting for; and
- that treats different styles of working as a problem to be resolved and standardized rather than a difference to be understood and appreciated.
If we want to avoid burnout, enjoy what we do, and produce work that matters, we need to refocus how we’re managing our work. We need to be more honest, get clear on what’s really important, and stop giving out bullshit due dates just so we can keep up the appearance of busy or punish people so someone can feel powerful.
The final step is to create a way of managing that honors the work and the people by being honest about what is really important, what is actually due, and respects the different ways we work.