The craftsman at work

Originally published on the TowerHill Blog.

I’m always fascinated by the habits of top performers. We all have the same amount of time in our day, so why do some get more done than others and with better results? Professionals who stand out because they are noticeably more productive than their peers in their industry must be using their time better than their peers. I think what many of these professionals have is the clarity that their profession is a craft. They see themselves as craftsmen and artisans. They’re old school – not in a curmudgeonly way – but in a productive, let’s get things done way.

Let’s examine that concept of a craftsman a bit more. For much of history, mankind fashioned goods. Smiths, farmers, bakers and carpenters worked raw materials into the useful and beautiful. They laid hand on the forge, the kiln, the press. They worked tirelessly and they left an imprint of themselves in every piece they produced and in every person who benefitted from their craft. Anyone who has physically labored at a project knows the joy of producing something both of great use and great beauty that others can enjoy.

Fast forward to today. Most of our goods are produced cheaply without the need for great, local artisans. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. As vital consumer goods get cheaper, more people have access to them. But what that does mean is that now many of us have professions that entail providing services to others. We are real estate agents, lawyers, economists, financial planners, etc. We’re not producing physical goods anymore. Our craft is a service – harder to grasp than a clay pot or a loaf of bread, but no less important for the clients we serve.

The tools we use have changed too. Instead of a hammer and anvil, we wield a laptop and smartphone. In the hands of a professional, a computer and a phone are powerful tools of the trade, and are a necessary requisite for the work of a modern day worker. But these tools are also the vehicle for digital services companies to grab our attention – and just like that, the tools of the trade have become hindrances to productive work.

Services monetize by capturing our attention. The world of apps is arguably the most prolific example of this. How many times in a given day are we interrupted by a buzz, ding, image, text, call, email, friend request, or other urgent reminder? Ten times and hour? 100 times a day? Easily.

Now imagine a sculptor with a cell phone to his ear.

Or a coach who is checking the score of another game on his ESPN app.

Or a surgeon checking email, once the patient has been sedated.

Or how about a teacher who is texting during a lecture?

Absurd! It doesn’t work… these mental images should upset us.

So why do we allow ourselves – as professionals –  to work with all of these same distractions? We have bought into the lie that we can multitask and that we are better for it even though we know that when we try to work this way, we decrease our effectiveness drastically and at the end of the day, are less fulfilled.

I think about the topic of working more effectively a lot, and I’m constantly looking for ways to decrease distractions and increase quality in my work. Here are some ideas on how to tackle work more effectively that I’ve collected with my team over the years:  

  • Wake up at the same time every day… which means that you need to get to bed at the same time too. Don’t rely on others to wake you up – own it!
  • Schedule two 30-minute blocks each day to reply to emails, texts and calls. Think of it as a depository for things that will otherwise distract from focused craft.
  • Remind yourself daily that you are a craftsman and that you enjoy your work when you approach it this way. I like the image of a blacksmith. What’s yours?
  • Have a morning routine that energizes you for your work: Eating well, working out, hydration, quiet time for meditation or prayer, and journaling all contribute to this for top performers.
  • Know that most of your competition starts thinking about work when it is imposed instead of being proactive.
  • Set appointments to go deep into relationships with the right people. Who you spend time with defines your character both personally and professionally. The most important appointments get on your calendar the same time every week.
  • Get a coach (or accountability partner at the least) for every area of your life that you want to become a great craftsman in.  
  • Understand that you can focus on tasks for about 60-90 minutes, then you need a break. Have a plan for what you will do to “reset” yourself for the next 60-90 minutes. We like a workout, short walk, even a glass of water.
  • Take a day and track how many times you get distracted at your peak hours for work.
  • Use airplane mode or the “do not disturb” function on your phone aggressively. It won’t kill you, we promise!
  • Always have a book you are reading or listening to that fills your downtime. It’s much better than checking Facebook in the grocery line.
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