10 Skills to Get Good At

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With our list of obstacles, we started to come up with some fixes … and they mostly have to do with skills that we want to get better at. Let’s look at those here:

Picking one important thing (prioritization). If you focus on important tasks a majority of the time, you’ll be getting stuff done. If you focus on getting the small stuff done but not the big stuff, or switch between tasks all the time, you’ll be less effective. It’s useful to pick one important thing to focus on at a time, learning over time what tasks and projects are of higher value to you than others. Is answering this email more important than writing that article? What would move the needle more, for your career, your team, your happiness and health?

Starting. Procrastination is one of the most common obstacles to Getting Stuff Done … so if we get good at starting, we’ll have conquered a huge obstacle. Starting is best done by focusing on the smallest first step, and practicing just launching into that. When I wanted to form the habit of running, I focused on just getting my shoes on and getting out the door. An art teacher I know tells students to just focus on getting the pencil to paper. Meditation teachers say to just get your butt on the cushion. Pick the tiniest first step, and launch into it.

Focus sessions. Switching to other things is also very common, so I’ve found huge value in focus sessions (also called the Pomodoro method by some). Basically, you pick a short interval (10 minutes, 15, 20, or 25) and practice focusing on one task during that session, until the timer goes off. Then take a break, and try another focus session. I recommend just doing a couple focus sessions a day for a week, and expand from there.

Managing task list. Choosing a todo program, finding the perfect system for it, and managing all your tasks and projects … it can be overwhelming. I know a lot of people who don’t even bother. But it’s a great skill for keeping yourself focused and Getting Stuff Done, and if you keep it simple, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I recommend picking just a simple todo program (lately I’ve been using Todoist, but I switch every now and then) and not overthinking it. The real skill is throwing all your tasks into your todo program (into the Inbox), and every day just picking a few tasks to focus on — I recommend 3 important tasks and 3 smaller ones per day. Your exact number will vary on how long you work, how hard the tasks are, how fast you are, etc. Once you have your tasks picked for the day, simply pick the first one and do a focus session with that task. It might take several focus sessions to get a task done.

Shitty first draft. Perfectionism gets in the way of Getting Stuff Done. So adopt the attitude of the Shitty First Draft, not worrying about perfection but just getting it out. Then go back and revise. But don’t overthink it, just focus on doing.
Being in uncertainty. There will be fear, uncertainty and discomfort in all of your work, and it’s a great skill to learn to be in uncertainty without running, avoiding, complaining, lashing out, hiding. The practice is to notice when you’re in uncertainty, when you’re feeling insecurity … and to just stop and be with it. Notice how it feels, physically, and be present with the feeling. Be gentle with the feeling, even friendly with it. Notice that you’re OK even when you’re in uncertainty and discomfort, and find gratitude for being in this moment. Love it just as it is, even with the feeling of insecurity. It takes practice!

Stepping back into the big picture. It’s one thing to be deeply focused on a task, but it’s another to step back and taking a look at the overall picture. I advocate doing that at the beginning and end of each day (a morning planning session and a brief evening review of your day) but also checking in during the day with how things are going and how you might need to adjust your plan and refocus yourself. We all get distracted, interrupted, waylaid by unforeseen difficulties. And those are all fine, if we can refocus ourselves as needed.

Taking full responsibility & leadership. This would be more of an advanced practice, but taking full responsibility means not blaming others for your difficulties in getting things done. Recognizing the obstacles but taking responsibility for finding a way, or accepting what needs to be accepted, or recognizing your part in the dynamic you’ve created. Taking leadership is taking responsibility for creating a better dynamic, creating structure if needed, even if you are the subordinate or not the official leader of the team.
Communicating. Another advanced skill — this is about communicating clearly and honestly, so that everyone is clear on responsibilities and boundaries and consequences of not honoring those responsibilities and boundaries. This kind of communication is leadership and structure, that helps everyone function better.

Creating structure. I do not advocate rigid structure and overplanning. It’s not conducive to Getting Stuff Done, and rigidly planned days are just a fantasy anyway. Instead, having a minimal structure is good: how will you start your day so that you’ll work on the important stuff? How will you do your focus sessions so you won’t be too distracted? How will you review your day so that you’ll learn from what happened? How will you create accountability? When will you get email done, and have meetings? Some simple answers to these kinds of questions helps you create structure. But don’t worry about getting structure perfect — if you have reviews, you can adjust and get better at creating structure over time.

It might feel overwhelming that there are 10 skills on this list — but you don’t have to get good at all of them at the same time. I would focus on the first four first, then expand slowly to practicing the others.