A while ago I read Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work, where he talks about how isolated, almost monastic blocks of highly-concentrated work are something increasingly rare in our society, but utterly essential for growth and innovation.
Which is ironic: here’s an ex-monk who tends to struggle with productivity, and who needs to read a book by a researcher in order to remind him that ye olde monastic practice (being devoted to the work, and taking action, i.e. active devotion) is what’s been missing.
‘Scuse me while I facepalm.
Anyway, he also talks about lead indicators vs lag indicators – a very important distinction.
Everybody has dreams. Results we want to create. A lifestyle, and an economy, that we work towards.
The results of those efforts show up in things you can measure, like the amount of free time you have, or the number of dollars coming in.
Between those metrics and the effort needed to create them, there’s delay and lag. Depending on what you’re building, that can be weeks, months, or years.
Now if you pay a lot of attention to the lag indicators (free time, money, number of customers etc etc), it’s very easy to get disheartened.
Growth usually starts slow, a nearly flat line for months or years, until it suddenly sweeps upward.
That happens when you reach the tipping point, and the flattish line suddenly sweeps upward – and you get the hockey-stick graph we would all like to see in our bank accounts.
Until you get to that point, you really want to avoid looking at the results too much.
Meaning: ignore the lag indicators, and focus instead on the lead indicators: the actions that will, eventually, bring you to the tipping point.
Look; measure; plan; schedule – get serious, scientific, monastic and scholarly on that stuff, and become a veritable pro at executing on the activities that will lead you to the tipping point as fast as can.
Create those blocks of single-pointed attention, to work on the growth-driving activities, and keep executing. Whether that’s an hour a day, or a 5-day bout in an AirBnB each month depends on what works for you.
But do that important work, and measure how much of it you do. Measure tasks checked off. Reflect on and measure how focussed and productive you were. Journal so as to find ways to optimise your output in those blocks.
Keep chipping away at – and improving – the lead metrics, while basically ignoring the lag metrics.
Those will show up, but ONLY if you execute on the lead metrics.
And the best way to do that is to ignore everything that comes after lag.
This is precisely why a while ago I created a strategic accountability coaching program:
To keep you focussed on, and executing on, those most high-value, growth-creating activities.
It’s an affordable way to get 1on1 time with me, to help you choose the best activities for growth, and to keep getting them done.
Also published on Medium.