The Direct Approach

The Direct Approach

I was writing about making Borscht last weekend, and in the process got onto a tangential thought: Production vs. Invention. The following line has been popping up in my thoughts all day:

I can think of a million ways to get around something, but I haven’t developed my direct confrontation methodology to the same degree.

There’s a certain pride in that statement; I’m saying I’ve spent a lot of time working out ways to get around obstacles, and I’ve gotten good at doing it. I haven’t neglected direct personal dialog either. I deal with people straight and I do everything to ensure that I keep my word, once it is given. I feel pretty good about that.

However, there’s the second part of the statement: I haven’t developed “direct confrontation” to the same degree. I believe this has been a missing element in my ongoing pursuit of increased personal productivity.

The Nemesis Early Warning System

If there’s one thing that I remember from 11th grade English, it’s the idea of hubris and nemesis from the classic Greek drama. I think of Hubris as the act of having pride on the level that offends the gods. Nemesis is the terrible vengeance they extract from you later.

I’ve been feeling a lot of negative charge building up on me for the past few days, and at first I refused to believe that’s what it was. I told myself, “I’m happy, and I’m enlightened! I see my path more clearly than ever, and I am so ready for what comes next!” I dismissed the sense of unease as my tendency to overthink things, and decided that I was happy about how things were. After all, many positive things have been happening! I had a great visit to Portsmouth last Friday, read a great and inspiring new book, and have been talking to a lot of interesting people. What could possibly be wrong?

Answer: That old feeling of not feeling I was getting enough done, and that I was losing time.

Now, why was that? Things are going rather well, aren’t they? New opportunities are rising with every day, it seems. I’ve been thinking about going into teaching, shifting more effort onto writing gigs, and broadening my network of personal contacts into something really cool and inclusive. However, there are old demons still hanging around:

  • Building True Financial Independence and Strength
  • Building a Real Application for Sale
  • Making A Good Game
  • Finding Someone Special
  • Building and Leading a Team
  • Keeping my House Clean and Doing My Laundry
  • Becoming Healthy and Strong

I was feeling subconsciously anxious about some of these things, and it was starting to ooze out into my daily routine, which of course bummed me out.

The Bad News

Here’s the statement I made before:

I can think of a million ways to get around something, but I haven’t developed my direct confrontation methodology to the same degree.

The “list of demons” are the goals I have not directly confronted. I thought I was by “exploring my options”, finding supporting tasks and investigating new methodologies. I’ve redefined them, hoping that I just needed to find what was the right way of “slicing” tasks so they were easy to achieve. I’ve developed theories about my own personal productivity that have, actually, been very helpful. But you know what? I haven’t really confronted them. They’ve been there for a long time, and I’m pretty sure they’re not going away by themselves. There isn’t a way around some obstacles; you’ve got to go through them. That’s the key insight.

What makes these obstacles particularly tricky is that they’re personal goals. I feel perfectly justified in shifting them around and reprioritizing them because they’re mine. It’s easy to defer a personal goal when someone else is telling you that they need you to do something, and oh they’re paying your salary so you better get moving! Or someone you like and respect is involved with the request, so you do everything in your power to do things right at the expense of your own objectives. Sound familiar?

There’s a truism in modern warfare that states you can not win a war through air power alone. You can bomb a country back to the Stone Age, but you won’t have won until you have your own troops on the ground and controlling the territory. In a more familiar context, that truism is expressed in American Football as the need for both strong passing and strong ground offense. The only way to score is to go through the other team, but you need both air and ground to do it.

So yeah. That’s what I need to do.

The Good News

The Printable CEO series is comprised of methods that address the psychological aspects of being productive that happen bum me out. The Concrete Goals Tracker, for example, develops clarity of purpose without the need for tedious tracking. The Task Progress Tracker allow you to build a task list on-the-fly and track progress, again without the need for tedious tracking. I’m seeing this as the “air warfare” component of my personal productivity squadron of tools, working in conjunction with the way I like to outflank and work around obstacles.

To really get things done, though, will take movement on the ground, deliberately and directly engaging the tasks at hand that stand in the way of my sense of fulfillment. That’s the ground war, and while I can soften the task through clever motivational techniques, I still have to be committed to go in unflinchingly so I can finish the job.

I previously saw the main productivity challenge as finding a replenishable source of energy and strength: discovering my passion. However, I did not consider that the application of this energy might be more than what I was already “good at” doing. I can see now that yes, it’s time to really apply my energies directly to fulfilling those tasks. I need both air support and initiative to take the ground! This is a new new kind of clarity that I didn’t have before, and I think it’s a critical one. In other words, stop dancing around and hit something already!

It’ll be interesting to see how this thought evolves over the coming weeks.

My To-Do List is a Battle Plan

An interesting side-benefit to this kind of thinking is that it could be used to reframe the weaknesses of the traditional To Do list as strengths. You know how To Do lists have a tendency to accumulate unfinished items? And how many detailed To Do items are required to get even the simplest thing done? Feels terrible, right? It’s never finished!

That might not be such a bad thing. It just means that your To Do list is evolving into a master battle plan for use in the field. Accumulation, in this case, is good because I’m acquiring battlefield intelligence in an evolving life situation, attempting to identify the best strategic opportunities that will move me forward. It’s not going to be easy…these are objectives that have stood for years, and it will take more than a day for them to fall. I shouldn’t expect that my To Do list clear any more quickly than that. So relax…this is supposed to happen. Keep things moving in the right direction by getting a few of them done every day, using whatever system you need, and feel a sense of accomplishment.


  1. Flipping Heck! 17 years ago

    Don’t forget you can also use the fact that you crossed an item off of your “To-Do List” as a motivational tool…

    A “Hey, if I can do that what else can I get done?” attitude works well for me. I also make sure I cross stuff out with a bright-coloured marker so I feel like I’m actually achieving something


  2. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    FH: Yes! I tend, though, to not to feel the immediacy of checking off very heavily. I want to achieve the THING at the end, so as I check off small items I’m thinking “that’s one more down, 99 more to go.” Plus, my To Do lists tend to turn into large interdependent lists of sublists if I maintain them rigorously. Ideas piling up faster than I can execute on them, which is demoralizing.

    If I think of the ideas piling off as one of the purposes of my To-Do list (sort of a long-view To Do), then it’s not so demoralizing. But of course to get there, I need the “punch through” mentality also, an acceptance that the 100s of small items to get to one significant milestone is a reality, so might as well get it over with.

    It’s a new thought for me, still working it out :-)