My favourite new productivity hack sounds too good to be true

Ethan hawke surprised raised eyebrowsIan Gavan/Getty ImagesReally, it works.
  • In “Finish,” Jon Acuff recommends that you “choose what to bomb.”
  • That means you pick one goal and work toward it, at the expense of almost everything else.
  • The idea is not to feel bad about everything you didn’t accomplish and focus on your one big, meaningful success.

My favourite piece of productivity advice in Jon Acuff’s latest book, “Finish,” isn’t so novel. Yet he unpacks and illustrates it so neatly that I feel like I’m really starting to get it.

The advice? “Choose what to bomb.” More specifically, choose in advance what you’re going to bomb and don’t feel bad about it.

The logic here is that, the more thinly you spread your time and energy, the less progress you make toward each individual goal. Pick one goal and give it your all and you’ll have a better shot at success.

It’s easy to nod along with this logic — it’s harder to apply it in your daily routine.

So Acuff takes an example, as he often does, from his own life. When his kids were toddlers, his yard was a mess. Even the handyman was impressed with the damage.

But Acuff chose not to shame himself for being delinquent on his yard-maintenance duties when he was struggling to keep his kids fed and entertained and alive.

Today, he chooses to bomb other things while he focuses on work and family, including keeping up with contemporary television and staying on top of his inbox.

Presumably, people get frustrated when they don’t hear back from him for days; presumably, he gets frustrated when he can’t join in a lively cocktail-party debate about Game of Thrones. But it’s a minimal price to pay for building a career as a bestselling author and being a good dad.

Acuff’s suggestion about picking your personal battles sounds a lot like “dropping the ball,” as author Tiffany Dufu puts it. As Libby Kane reported for Business Insider, Dufu says it’s OK — really, it’s OK! — to shirk responsibility for some tasks and delegate them to your partner. They might even do those tasks better than you would.

Some research supports these based-on-real-life recommendations, too.

A recent study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that people who spend money on services that will save them time are generally happier than those who don’t. Think paying for a meal-kit service or hiring a house cleaner.

As Acuff writes, “The only way to accomplish a new goal is to feed it your most valuable resource: time. And what we never like to admit is that you don’t just give time to something, you take it from something else. To be good at one thing you have be bad at something else.”

As in: I’m going to order takeout tonight (take time away from household duties) so I can finish this work project (give time to my career).

I thought a lot about Acuff’s advice in the context of the workday. How often do we show up at the office planning to knock out a project report, brainstorm ideas for another project report, take a meeting with a client, and leave at 5 p.m. so we can make it to a gym class? Just me?

What would happen if we said today is dedicated just to the project report — and made it really, really good? Obviously, people have bosses, who often expect all these things to get done promptly. But I’m guessing that at least some of the time, we place these unrealistic expectations on ourselves, too.

Give yourself a break and aim for less. You might be surprised by how much more you get done.

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