Blog 2020 10 31 Sharpen your axe and chop down the tree quickly

Sharpen your axe and chop down the tree quickly

This is an excerpt from by book called The Seniority Trap. I’m sharing some parts from each chapter. Check out the #thesenioritytrap for more parts.

Working hard is fine and sometimes you’ll have to bust your ass off. Yet it should not be your default way of action. Working smart is a better option and how can you work smart?

By actually becoming smart.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe before touching the tree first.

This mindset was key to transforming my workdays.

The other crucial thought was a research made by a UK money-saving brand. According to their findings, the average office worker doesn’t actually spend more than 3 hours a day with productive work. Actually, a little bit less. 2 hours and 53 minutes.

That seems to be a ridiculously low number!

How can it be true? How much time do you spend in the coffee room with others discussing mundane non-work related issues? How much time do you spend on social media? Watching cat videos? And of course, there are the stupid meetings you have to limit - don’t get me wrong, not all the meetings are stupid.

They reported exactly these kinds of activities. Spending time on social media, news sites, texting, drinking hot beverages, smoking, etc take up so much time. And they haven’t even mentioned yet all those meetings.

I was shocked. As a diligent introvert, who used to toil through political campaigns where no time is enough and there is time to lose, I immediately understood why I was always ready with my tasks on time and reported back that I have plenty of time to pick new ones.

My bosses were always surprised, just like me. By their astonishment.

Before you might think I didn’t limit my daily productive work to 10380 seconds and I would not even suggest that.

But I understood better where the time goes, what are realistic expectations of bosses and what I could be capable of if I used my time well.

Even before the big realization, my managers used to praise my time management skills.

I doubled down and I closed out most of social media and news portals on which I wasted so much time anyway.

I started to demand meeting agendas even from my superiors and in addition, I schedule learning time into my workdays. I blocked out half an hour every afternoon that I spent on researching a topic closely related to my work.

I advise you to do the same, create a recurring event in your agenda, call it research and take that time to read up on a new language feature, a testing technique you wanted to try, an obscure part of your standard library, you name it.

Take time to get better. It will soon pay off with huge dividends.

Of course, there can be teams where people wouldn’t be happy if they saw your screen full of non-directly-work related contents (books, online compilers, etc), but you might be able to navigate yourself to a good desk or actually to occupy a meeting room.

And if you are worried that you spend so much time away from work, think about others who take so much time to smoke.

What if you are one of them?

Stop smoking. Your body will thank you. You’re welcome.

Spend that time getting better. Your career will thank you. Again, you’re welcome.

I used the mornings and the after-lunch food coma time to work on my personal growth. While I’m pretty sure that some managers would find this outrageous and I never advertised this activity of mine, I wouldn’t even like to work with them.

Yes, spending all that time on learning is selfish. But I’ve always spent it on topics that could help not only my personal but my internal projects as well. Those hours made me more efficient and proficient, often they were instruments and motivation for knowledge sharing and mentoring sessions. According to some of my formal or informal mentees, I turned their career around.

Not necessarily by giving them hard knowledge, I’m not an expert of any language after all, but my attitude.

This sounds very snobbish, I know. So let me add quickly. I didn’t do anything extraordinary, I just cut down on time wasters and took up the works of giants, like Mancuso, Uncle Bob, Feathers, Kent Beck, just to name a very few.

Learning a bit every single day compounds fast, that’s the main idea behind Darren Hardy’s book called The Compound Effect. You don’t have to save the world on any day. You only have to make one small step forward and soon, with consistency, you’ll be far ahead of the others.

I obviously wasn’t the first one applying this in the field of software engineering. First I read about this concept in Coders at Work, where the father of Erlang, Joe Armstrong quoted Richard Hamming, “I always spend a day a week learning new stuff. That means I spend 20 per cent more of my time than my colleagues learning new stuff. Now 20 per cent at compound interest means that after four and a half years I will know twice as much as them. And because of compound interest, this 20 per cent extra, one day a week, after five years I will know three times as much”.

It is that powerful.

If others could do it, why not you?

With good scheduling, you can create a safe space for yourself to learn and by getting better, you’ll accomplish your tasks not just with higher quality, but with a higher pace too.

Think about it! You’ll do the same work better and faster. You will end up having even more time.

Up to you how do you use it!

More learning, more personal projects or more work tasks? Maybe a combination?

While there are hard deadlines even in corporations, mostly they are based on arbitrary decisions by people who have been promoted into a job they had no competency to do until they fail.

Deadlines are not life-and-death market dictates, but pretty much arbitrary dates.

I’m not saying you should not respect them. You should, because it has an effect on how you are seen, but don’t be afraid of them either and feel free to challenge them.

Heads at least on individual contributor level will barely fall because of unmet deadlines and most of them will be renegotiated anyway between the stakeholders.

You’ll barely have to work your ass off, at least not because other people force you too. Exhausted, overworked people always have one thing in common. The victim mindset. We all know them. They like to be victims. They like to complain and explain how bad the world is with them. We are all prone to do such things in different areas of our life.

The main question is whether we accept if someone tells us to slow down and think differently. To stop acting like a victim.

Most people just take offence and they continue living their self-limiting life.

If you are different, you either lie even to yourself or you are part of the minority.

But you are reading a book, you’re already part of a minority.

You might not lie.

Are you interested? Check out The Seniority Trap on Leanpub!

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This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.