Three Fights to Pick Every Day
The last time I checked—around 5:09 pm as I headed out the door—I noted that work isn’t perfect. It never has been, it never will be, and even when it feels like it for a time there’s always that moment when a little thorn springs up alongside the fruit. It’s a daily battle. Daily highs and lows and highs and then it repeats. The good will always need tending to, the bad will always need a good fight to weed it out.
I’ve often wondered how I should go about dealing with—or more effectively fighting against—unending interruptions, or my insular personality, or people that leave dirty dishes, or projects with less than specific anything, or merge conflicts, or any number of tireless things to even get to tending the good that brought me here in the first place.
Generally speaking I’m pretty optimistic about work. Probably doesn’t sound like it, but I am. It’s not always easy though, and nothing that involves a network of individuals, all with a unique perspective, ever is or should be. The fruit of it is worth the fight however, and in my wondering here are three fights I’ve chosen to stage every day to obtain it.
Fight to do ________ before someone else has to
There’s something I told myself early on in my marriage that has been incredibly helpful—“If I don’t do (fill in the blank), she’s going to have to do it.” That meant getting the oil changed in the car, cleaning up a mess, running to pick up a late night pizza and many other things that’d be best to revisit to make sure I’m still doing.
The same applies to work. It’s a fight to do things for others. A fight to name layers in a shared file, to add another component to the style guide, to pixel-preview and tweak the crap out of an icon to avoid subpixel antialiasing or even to reorganize the dirty dishwasher to make more room if you’re OCD. It’s not all bad either. It could mean sharing knowledge I know others will be looking for or creating a topical Slack channel for my team because I know it’d be a benefit.
The first fight I pick is with myself. Like Mike Wolfe on American Pickers always says, “The time to buy it is when you see it.” The time to do something is when I see that it needs done.
Fight to give it five minutes
Last fall I read this brilliant article, Give it five minutes, by Jason Fried in which he talks about his experience in being quick to disagree and argue with a particular expert’s talk only to kindly be told “Man, give it five minutes.”
Dismissing an idea is so easy because it doesn’t involve any work. You can scoff at it. You can ignore it. You can puff some smoke at it. That’s easy. The hard thing to do is protect it, think about it, let it marinate, explore it, riff on it, and try it. The right idea could start out life as the wrong idea. — Jason Fried
I found the same to be true of how I reacted to just about any idea that didn’t initially fit with the way I saw things. From late last fall onward I’ve fought hard to breath a little, to reason a bit and to put emotional reactions in check before venturing a reply. I can only say that it’s been beneficial for myself and likely more so the recipients. Yes, I often still disagree, but I can do so in a better way with reason and examples rather than purely an emotional response. Surprisingly though there have been many occasions where five minutes was all I needed to completely change my mind.
Ideas are worth fighting for, and in most cases they deserve at least a five minute round.
Fight for personal and focused time
This might be the hardest thing I have to fight for every day. For me there’s a certain type of guilt that comes with stepping away from the desk to grab a coffee, run an errand or get a few single-track miles in over lunch. There is, after all, only a certain amount of time to get the thing done. Even taking a few minutes to explore a new design tool or technique feels off some days. But just like some projects need a reset.css file I think it’s necessary to have something similar to establish baselines throughout a day or week—I haven’t often, if ever, regretted it.
A long sea implies an uniform and steady motion of long and extensive waves; on the contrary, a short sea is when they run irregularly, broken, and interrupted; so as frequently to burst over a vessel’s side or quarter. — William Falconer
I’m fortunate enough to have a workspace in two separate buildings. When I start to get pinged too much in one space it’s time to trek a few hundred yards to the other in search of that long sea where I can continue without the same short waves interrupting. It sounds uncharitable or reclusive and maybe even that comes with a bit of guilt, but just as when I take a break, I haven’t often regretted it.
I fight to give myself some time for the benefit of riding the long wave towards better work and better interactions with others.
What are three things you’re picking a fight with every day? I hope they’re for good. I hope they’re meaningful and lead to caring less about the thorns and more about the fruit.