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There is a rule I follow that serves me well: To be successful, look at what everyone else is doing and do the exact opposite. I call this the “Contrarian’s Guide to Success,” and while several famous people have quotes similar to this statement attributed to them, I learned thisit in middle school from my basketball coach and have been applying it ever since.
For some reason, however, I abandoned the Contrarian’s Guide to Success early in my career. I’m not sure if it was amnesia or inexperience, but I neglected it for “best practices,” believing they could somehow create harmony in my work and personal life. The results were disastrous! When I was supposed to be working, my focus was on my wife and kids. When I was at home, I focused on work. The end result was a lot of disappointed people, including myself, and most days I felt a tremendous amount of stress.
Ironically, I came to my senses because of a quote I read in an article on productivity. The quote was about not following the crowd, and instantly I remembered the Contrarian’s Guide to Success. Moments later, I was scribbling a dozen or more contrarian hacks for creating work-life harmony. Below are three of the foundational guidelines I scratched out that day.
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When you hear “balance” — run!
Contrarians zig when others zag. Therefore, if you want to experience higher levels of productivity, the first hack is to reject the phrase work-life balance.The nirvana of work-life balance simply doesn’t exist. It’s a mythical place of fairytales and folklore, so stop following the crowd and run as fast as you can towards work-life harmony, not balance.
My father, who made his living as a pianist and choir director, made sure our house was filled with music. This meant I grew up with an ear for harmony. Contrary to popular opinion, harmony is not about balance. It’s about pleasure. Harmony is defined as the combination of simultaneous musical notes that produce pleasing chord progressions. These chord progressions are rarely balanced, and the most appealing harmonies are usually purposely imbalanced.
Similarly, your goal should be to create purposely imbalanced work-life harmony because, by definition, work-life balance is impossible. Work-life balance strives for even distribution between work and life. Who, in the history of humanity, has accomplished that goal? Work-life harmony, on the other hand, aims to achieve a pleasing progression between life and work. At times, work will need to sing louder than your personal life. During other moments, personal life will take the lead and work will sing backup. The key for you, as the contrarian director, is to lead this off-balanced, on-purpose approach in creating pleasing harmonies.
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Bend the definition of “productivity.”
Productivity is typically measured by work rate, output and yield. The primary focus is on how much is produced. Yet, if effectiveness is your goal, this productivity yardstick needs to be tweaked. Instead of measuring how much gets done, the first measurement should be on what gets done.
The problem, however, is most productivity hacks place speed above superiority. They focus on getting more done faster, but have you ever consider the danger of this approach? If you become more efficient at getting stuff done, more stuff will be added to your plate. But what if that stuff is . . . well . . . just stuff? What if it doesn’t really matter? As Steven Covey often stated, the speed of your output is meaningless if your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.
A better definition of productivity is this: getting what’s superior done first. Is speed important? Yes, but not as vital as identifying what’s superior. I’d rather be a bit slow in getting things done and more strategic about carving out time to work on what matters most than be speedy at getting things done yet inconsistent on giving time to what matters most. Ideally, I go for both, but if forced to pick between them, I pick superiority over speed every time.
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Become infatuated with “simplicity”
Have you noticed how complex many productivity tools have become? If-this-then-that arrows pointing in dozens of directions. Apps with multiple screens for tasks, meetings, projects and reports. Soon, a PhD in Quantum Physics will be needed to use tools that are supposedly designed to make life easier!
Productivity contrarians are infatuated with simplicity. Many are old-school, using pen and paper to create simple priority lists that separate tasks that matter most from everything else. Their goal is priority management over time management, and keeping things simple helps them accomplish this goal.
Are You a Contrarian?
There you have it — a simple Contrarian’s Guide to Success and how it shapes one’s views on productivity. Run from work-life balance, bend the definition of productivity and become infatuated with simplicity. Give these hacks a try and see if they don’t help increase your level of success.