A lot of people struggle with getting meaningful things done, not so much from a lack of effort as from a lack of intentional design in their life.
I recently heard Seth Godin describing the work habits of Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is wicked creative, but he has learned that, if he allows himself to work in an environment that has ANYTHING interesting in it, he will be seduced by it and never get anything done. He’s only able to work if he is totally bored. Recognizing that, his work space is designed to be as boring and unstimulating as possible. The result is that that creative mind of his turns out some pretty amazing stuff.
Gaiman’s work space is an excellent example of designing a winning environment.
It is a coaching maxim that “the environment always wins.” Still, people spend vast amounts of time on personal development without taking steps to upgrade the environment where they live and work. That really doesn’t make much sense.
There is a great power at work here: it is called The World. Too often people struggle with environments that suck their energy and leave them totally without the juice to do work that matters. Oh, they are working; but the work is about treading water, fighting crises, catching up.
To make it more likely that they’ll do work that matters, they have to change The World.
Tall order, right?
Actually, it’s not such a big deal as you might think, particularly when they begin to look at The World as being a lot of environments which they can tweak. The idea is to start designing their environments for who they want to BECOME. (Hint: it is currently a reflection of who they ARE.)
For example, there’s the environment of Relationships. Do family, friends, and colleagues inspire or deflate them? Do they serve as inspiration and encouragers or as excuses and boat anchors. Maybe they need to move toward some relationships and away from others.
Another type of relationship environment is Network. What key people and communities engage them, and how do they add to or detract from the important work that they want to do? Who is there that they could use for more support? Who do they need to know that they can seek out? If they can’t find who they want to become in their current network, well, maybe they need to expand their connections.
Physical Environment. Does their workspace generate energy or sap it? Clear the desk. Organize files. Remove distractions like Gaiman did or add stimuli if that works for them. Remember, the space reflects who they ARE and Have Been. Change it to accommodate who they want to be in it.
Technology. Yes, that’s part of the environment. If they spend more time with workarounds than with real work, then it might be time for an upgrade. I recently moved to a smart phone because I recognized not doing so was going to cost me money. I was sorry to see my dear old flip phone go, but it was time. It was fine for who I WAS but not for who I want to BE.
A flip side of the technology coin is about keeping the toys and the bells and the whistles from becoming distractions. This was one of my reasons for resisting smart phone technology for so long. I can be a lot like the dog Dug in the Pixar movie UP when I have a new toy or widget. For that reason I do most of my writing in a plain text editor on an ancient Dell laptop with a stripped-down Linux platform. Hardly a bell or whistle in sight – no games, limited ‘net connection, real slow video, etc. This keeps me focused on the important work like this blog by removing a myriad of distractions. When I need fast ‘net, video, graphics, presentation software, etc. THEN I switch on my powerful desktop computer. Otherwise, it sits quietly off to the side…like a sleeping squirrel.
There are at least nine distinct environment areas we live in, and each of them has the power to act upon us – in fact each one already is doing so. For most people their current environment was designed by and reinforces old beliefs and habits. The result is something besides the important work they are here to do. They need to give themselves a break and stop trying to win by dint of will. They can intentionally design the environments they need to live in; environments that support, even compel, important work.
Want to explore your environments and how they support or hinder you?
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2 thoughts on “Doing Important Work”
Excellent reminders, Michael! Made me give some thought to what needs to be redesigned in the living/working space. And you are so right about using a computer that doesn’t do much besides support writing when what you want to do is write.
A very interesting read. I will be sharing it with my husband, too! Also, I did not know that about Neil Gaiman- makes me love him even more.