Screenshot from the Essential Craftsman YouTube channel |

Smart Still Produces Sweat

Let me introduce you to my new favorite YouTube video.

I don’t plan on building a ramp any time soon, but I’m always interested in becoming more productive. I’m fascinated by the ways people streamline their workflow and spaces to get more done – from Adam Savage’s workshop to Casey Neistat’s old studio and everything in between.

What I really appreciate about this video is his appreciation for hard work and that working smarter doesn’t negate hard work.

It’s made me think about what my definition of “working smarter” actually means, and I’ve come up with this – eliminating wasted effort. Working hard is fine and in many cases is necessary and good; so long as the majority of the work is getting a positive result. It’s working hard for little or no results that causes problems.

There’s always going to be some degree of wasted effort, especially if it’s a new type of project or new skill that’s being learned. But it’s those moments when I want to be aware of the times I went down a dead end then backtracked so I can avoid that same path the second time. I know I’m going to make mistakes, I just want them to be new and interesting mistakes rather than the same ones over and over again.

In my opinion, this is fertile ground for creativity. It’s not just finding a system that works and never changing it ever – it’s find what works, always being aware that you’re using a system, and whether there are places to tweak that system. Or it might be a matter of dumping the system altogether and trying it a completely new way.

This is something I’m thinking about at the beginning of a new year. How many places in my life have I lost track of the underlying system? How many times do I do things just because “it’s the way I do it” without examining if there’s a new or better way of doing it? Where are some low-risk areas that I can completely abandon the system and try it a new way – almost an intentional forgetting of my habits where I can force myself to learn something new?

Video and screenshot from the Essential Craftsman YouTube channel.

Getting To Do Done

Am I an organized person by nature or a disorganized person who is forced into being organized so that I can get things done and find my car keys on a regular basis? It’s the classic chicken-egg question, and one that I’ve yet to satisfactorily answer for myself.

For other people, I usually go with the second because it sounds better and I suppose also gives me a slight ego boost for overcoming natural bad habits. However, it’s probably a little closer to the first than I’d like to admit. My room growing up was rarely the complete disaster I’ve seen from most kids and even when I was in college, things were pretty well kept. After cleaning our kitchen for the first time, my wife thought she’d wound up with the guy from Sleeping With The Enemy. In my own defense, all of the labels weren’t out.

Which is all to say in a roundabout way that I have a daily to do list. I write it out by hand with little checkboxes and then take great joy in adding a check to those boxes throughout the day. If I neglect to have my list, then the day tends to wander (see also: yesterday’s post and guess which days I’m best about making that list).

For a season, I tried a method that it seems other “wildly productive” people use, which is to schedule your day out completely by time – down to the quarter hour. Sounded like a fantastic idea until I’d done it about a month and realized that much as doing just one thing might work for some people, that this wasn’t for me. I can see how that would work, but for me it caused paralysis and aggravation because it always seemed I was going off schedule. So I went running back to my list.

And you know what? It works. Maybe not in a “wildly productive” way, but it works. Things get done and between my list and my calendar, I have a pretty good look at my day and can plan accordingly. And if things don’t get checked off the list? I either add them to my list for the next day or reevaluate whether it’s something I should be doing.

See, I think the best lesson I’ve learned from the list that I couldn’t quite get with the schedule was to be a little more kind with myself. Maybe it’s a crossed wire in my head, but the schedule never allowed me that breathing room whereas missing one item on a list elicits a shrug from me. After spending a fair amount of time beating myself up over the years, I figured I owe me one.

Probably more, really.