The Weekly Reid: My Tips to Avoid Getting Derailed by Short Term Frustrations

The more time you spend focused on your big wins, the faster they will come. The more time you spend executing on your mission, the faster you will accomplish it. It’s really that simple.

In my experience, the most productive people waste the least amount of time and energy on activities not directly related to their primary objectives. I realize that may sound like a truism to you, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Is there anyone at your workplace who always appears to be working hard but is completely unproductive? Someone who puts in long hours and always looks busy, but never actually gets anything done? I see these people all the time. To the casual observer, they appear to be doing all the right things. But on closer inspection, they are just highly inefficient. They waste time on nonessential activities. They chase non-critical problems. They react and obsess and spin in place. And when you add up all the hours they’ve “worked” in a given week, you see that they spent very little time focused on their mission. Their hard work was an illusion.

We are all victims of this behavior to a certain extent. None of us is perfectly productive. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of efficiency. For me, the biggest detractor to productivity has been my tendency to obsess over conflicts and issues that, with a dose of hindsight, were always going to end up resolving themselves. When I look back on these issues I could see just how much energy I burned for no reason. I could see just how much time I wasted, when I could have spent it pursuing my mission.

Over the years, as I’ve observed this tendency in myself, I’ve developed some strategies for overcoming it. I don’t have it all figured out – that’s for sure. But these tips do help me quarantine short term problems to stay focused on my primary mission. I hope they are helpful to you too.

1. Time Travel

I engage in time travel more than you might think. I’ve gotten quite good at it actually. Whenever I’m upset or worried about a conflict or issue, I force myself to travel forward in time so I can have the benefit of hindsight while I’m still in the present moment.

I very purposefully play out the likely sequence of events and place myself in the highest probability future states. Most of the time - like 90% of the time - it becomes clear that whatever issue I’m dealing with, will inevitably be a tiny blip when viewed from the perspective of my entire career. It just won’t be that big of a deal. Most of the time, it will resolve itself. Sometimes, it will end better than it started. Other times it will end badly but even then, it won’t be THAT bad.

My point is, we need to be able to apply the benefits of hindsight in the present state. And whatever tricks you need to pull on yourself to be able to do this, it will help. Next time someone pisses you off, or you take some heat from your boss, apply some perspective, travel ahead in time, see that it’s likely not going to be that big of a deal when considered in the context of your entire career, and get back to focusing on your wins.

2.  Play out the worst case, and get comfortable in it

One useful exercise I frequently use when I’m at risk of being derailed by worry or anger, is to play out the worst-case scenario. This is a pretty common practice in Stoicism that I find very helpful. Rather than obsess and stew over a conflict or issue for hours and hours, I take 10 minutes and visualize the absolute worst-case scenario. Maybe my boss will reprimand me. Maybe I won’t get the promotion I was hoping for. Maybe a senior executive will be disappointed in me. Whatever the worst-case scenario is, I play it out fully in my head. I confront it. I put myself in that reality. I prepare mentally for it. I accept it.

By spending 10 minutes placing myself in the worst-case scenario, I normally get quite comfortable with it. I get less afraid. I get more prepared. I plan for what I’ll do if it comes to pass. And then I let it go. I stop worrying about an uncertain future state because I’ve already placed myself in the worst possible outcome and felt comfortable with it. It’s a very useful exercise.

3. Add more positives

If I’ve gotten myself into trouble or into conflict, or otherwise done something that may ding my reputation, I immediately try to find a win. Rather than expend energy regretting what I’ve done, or worrying about how my career has been hurt, I try to get back in the win column quickly. Ultimately, the scorecard of your career will have many wins and losses. It’s inevitable. None of us are perfect. You can make quite a few mistakes and have an extremely successful career, if you accumulate enough wins to offset them. Some of the most successful executives I know have made huge blunders – but they have tons of wins too.

Rather than dwell on short term problems, that may or may not prove to be losses on your record, its far more productive to focus on pursuing your next big win. Next time you catch yourself worrying about a mistake or conflict or problem, stop yourself, reset, and start pursuing something positive.

The most productive and successful people I know are the ones who maximize energy spent on positive pursuits and wins. They don’t allow themselves to be derailed by conflicts or frustrations that are inherently short term in nature. They have the ability to quarantine their productive energy from time wasting behaviors. I was a victim of this for many years, even though I probably appeared quite calm on the outside. I hope these tips were helpful to you.