It’s very, very easy to see having too much to do in too little time as a source of stress. Believe me, I know. A weasel recently chewed through my brake cable in the middle of a busy week and I was like, ‘Really, car-eating weasels? 3 kids and a demanding job aren’t enough?’
But constraints can also be a source of inspiration, creativity and amazing performance.
Constraints provide structure and help clarify priorities but I never really thought about it in so many words until recently, when I came across the same idea in two completely different books I’ve been reading. It’s clearly a sign of … something.
- The first book, Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, talks about how time constraints force the presenter to condense their key ideas down to a single memorable message.
Other types of constraints, such as format or content constraints, force presenters to get creative about how to get the message across. In the absence of such constraints, people come up with some pretty long, boring presentations because it’s easier to cram a lot of words on a slide than figure out what your key message is. If you want better presentations, try telling people they can only show one slide. Some people will completely miss the point and cover the slide with tiny 10-point words. Others will surprise you with the simplicity and clarity of their message.
- The second book, Rise by Patty Azzarello, talks about how successful people not only achieve more but make sure others know about their achievements.
The catch is you don’t get any extra time to do this, you have to figure out how to do more and communicate better in the same amount of time you have today. This isn’t just a question of working more efficiently, it’s a question of being strategic about how you work. It’s about turning your limits into a competitive advantage, which sounds like jargon but it’s true. No one can do everything. Effective people focus on the 3 things they’re going to do out of the 200 things they could do.
We all know people who achieve amazing results by working 80 hours a week. Because they work so many hours they don’t need to be particularly efficient or innovate about how they do the work. These people get a lot done but they don’t move the organization forward – and ultimately don’t move forward themselves – because they don’t scale.
We also all know people who do less but achieve more. This doesn’t mean they’re better or smarter than everyone else but they ARE better at prioritizing and communicating. Maybe they have kids. Maybe they have a health problem. Maybe they want their work to have a visible impact. Whatever their constraint, they’ve figured out how to turn it into an advantage, usually through a combination of ruthless prioritization and excellent communication.
Not having enough time can be a gift. It forces you to figure out you core message before you present to busy people. It forces you to find a way to do your most important work in the time you have available. And it forces you to focus on what will have the highest positive impact instead of wasting time being ‘busy.’ None of these things are career limiting, by the way.
This would be a good time for a comment about ‘business’ and ‘busyness’ but that would be cheap and obvious. Instead I will leave you with this thought:
Limitations are like opportunities. They are what you make of them.
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