November 10, 2014

"Ideally, you'd find complete focus and do one thing well. You'd pick one really important thing, say No to all the rest..."

"... and put your complete focus on this one project. This might be school, or a project at work, or a volunteer project… but just one thing. You'd learn to do it well, and get better and better at it, and serve people exceptionally. However, that's not reality. We can't always pare things down to one thing, so focus on two. I've found that you can do two things well, and one thing really well. With two focuses, you won't be as concentrated, won't learn as deeply, but it's doable. With three or four focuses, you won't do anything well or learn anything deeply or serve anyone exceptionally."

Just do 2 things well and say no to everything else.

Why not? How many things are you trying to do well? Is there some way not to have to do everything else? It seems wrong to signal to everyone that you're only going to do your special 2 things. What happens to the things that need to be done that no one selects as the things they will do well? What happens when crucial functions are ceded to the kind of people who feel they must take responsibility for everything? And are we doing well — doing good — when we rope those people into to these tasks? And what if those people aren't trustworthy? What if they are nefarious power-mongers? The article at the link originally appeared at a place called Zen Habits, and the illustration is of a man in a suit in a state of blissful meditation.

45 comments:

mccullough said...

Sounds like Bo Jackson

John Lynch said...

Know the difference between the important and the urgent, and do what's important.

mccullough said...

If you have 3 kids you can only be a good parent to 2 of them I guess. Unless parenting counts for 1 activity.

It really depends on the level of generality you define this stuff. Maybe you can only be a good parent when it comes to preparing healthy meals and making sure your kids do their homework. You've then maxed out your duo capabilities.

campy said...

"Just do 2 things well and say no to everything else."

Obama chose golf and fund raising.

mccullough said...

Campy, Obama sucks at golf.

campy said...

Well, he's still focusing on it.

David said...

How many? Too many. But better than too few.

Henry said...

Leo Babauta is the creator and writer of Zen Habits. He's married with six kids

Parenting is pass/fail. Sippican taught me that. That still leaves Leo with one thing.

Love McCullough's comment.

Henry said...

Bo Jackson, indeed.

tim in vermont said...

Obama sucks at golf, but if you are going to get better, you have to put in the hours.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

This is what the B students do, and then they get to run the world.

I do like that Althouse reads the New York Times for me. I'm sure she skips a lot of things I would like to read, if I were to read it myself, which I have never really wanted to do.

Likewise, I can vote one set of nefarious power-mongers into the Presidency, and another set into the House and Senate.

FullMoon said...

What the guy actually said was...do two things well instead of everything poorly

Depends on the meaning of "well", also

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

campy said...
"Just do 2 things well and say no to everything else."

Obama chose golf and fund raising.


To call what HE did, 'fund raising', is to denigrate all the hard work that goes into actual fund raising, and was done by others.

He showed up (was flown and driven there), then partied, has his ass kissed and ego stroked multiple times, then left (driven and flown away).

He's one lazy SOB. Shockingly so, actually.

jimbino said...

That's why men are such inattentive husbands and fathers: they concentrate on doing one thing well, and that's the job.

The Cracker Emcee said...

Zen schmen.I read Zen In the Art of Archery four times before I found out that Herrigel became an ardent Nazi upon his return to Germany. Sometimes the path to perfection just leads to total douchewaddery.

Michael K said...

I had two major things to do in my life. One was medicine and surgery and I did that well

The other was sailing and I came within 9 minutes of winning the Transpac.

My kids are pretty well launched and doing well.

My dog loves me.

What else is there ?

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Leo Babauta is a Chamorro from Guam, which pleases me immensely, as I have strong ties to the island.

I think that for the vast majority of people, their two things are 1. their job and 2. their role in their families.

Isn't that obvious?

I take care of my kids, and I read and remember things.

I do other things too, but those are the two big ones.

surfed said...

Do a plethora of things. You become wiser.

campy said...

"That's why men are such inattentive husbands and fathers: they concentrate on doing one thing well, and that's the job."

What about men who make fatherhood their job?

Bobber Fleck said...

@ Michael K

"What else is there ?"

God.

Your wife.

Badger basketball in 2014/5.

madAsHell said...

That's why men are such inattentive husbands and fathers:

Because men don't set the agenda, but they have to be there to make sure bad shit doesn't happen.

madAsHell said...

That's why men are such inattentive husbands and fathers:

Because men don't set the agenda, but they have to be there to make sure bad shit doesn't happen.

m stone said...

Agree with Bobber Fleck.

the student that wrote to me probably needs say No to prayer group and the youth group, so that they can say Yes to school and the job.

Interesting choice of what not to do, especially looking at the Zen's bio. Many of us would reverse the order (not that I personally find youth groups especially foundational).

Augustine sums it up: "Love God and do as you please."

Titus said...

I am very zen-most days. I practice "active breathing" and see my third eye, have an amazing wide second and....my chakha khans are in alignment-though I do fail some days. When I fail I become very introspective and refocus my positive energies.

namaste.

Titus said...

I also have a large hog which I am totally zen yet proud too.

Zen and Pride don't always go together but I make an exception for my large cock with perfect width and height. No excessive or too small head.

Michael K said...

"Blogger Bobber Fleck said...
@ Michael K

"What else is there ?"

God.

Your wife.

Badger basketball in 2014/5."

Two wives

I'm agnostic

USC football.

Carl Pham said...

What happens to the things that need to be done that no one selects as the things they will do well?

Um...the wages offered rises, until it reaches the point where someone's cupidity outweighs his indifference to the dubious joys of expertise in that field?

This whole free market/individual liberty thing is kind of unfamiliar to you, Althouse, is it not? Not super surprising, what with the double X chromosome and lifetime in academia. But really truly, humans do have ways of "self organizing" to accomplish all that needs to be done, with a relative minimum of fuss and no broad social organizing principles (or authorities) at all. They've done it for 50,000 years, forsooth.

campy said...

Okay, I stand corrected about the golf and the fund raising. But I've thought of one thing Barack Obama really does do better than anyone else alive: adore Barack Obama.

CStanley said...

Why is it not OK for some people to be generally good at a lot of things and other people to be more specialized? Aside from the practical shortcomings of such a system as Prof. Althouse noted, it doesn't take I to account that some people are better suited for specialization than others are.

Laslo Spatula said...

My Outreach Program to Insecure High-School Girls keeps my focus honed. I am constantly honing that focus. Hone, hone, hone: that's what I do.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

campy said...
Okay, I stand corrected about the golf and the fund raising. But I've thought of one thing Barack Obama really does do better than anyone else alive: adore Barack Obama.


Bingo.

Original Mike said...

"Obama sucks at golf."

How is that possible?

traditionalguy said...

Obama and his brilliant charming smile are really the best we ever have or will see at lying. His skills are natural and seem not to be an effort for him.

Remember a toxic narcissist must control your perceptions of him at all times. Otherwise you are written off as of no use to him and must be replaced by another source of narcissistic supply.

Biff said...

This reminds me of a common misunderstanding in the business world. Half a century ago, the famous management guru, Peter Drucker, advised executives and managers to focus on their strengths and to make those strengths stronger. Many people only remember that bit of advice, while forgetting that he did not advocate ignoring weaknesses, shortcomings, bad habits, etc. It is a question of degree and emphasis; spend most effort in maximizing strengths, then address serious issues that can prevent achieving objectives, and finally be judicious about the amount of effort spent improving performance in weak areas, i.e. have a clear idea of the likely return on your effort. Drucker was much more nuanced than the binary view that we often hear. On balance, I guess that's not so bad, though, since most reasonably skilled people probably do try to do too much at once, rather than too little.

Babaluigi said...

Ah, hell, I have always tried to do everything well...it is the way I was taught to be. Do I always succeed? ...obviously not..

But one thing about growing older, is that one might realize that everything does not carry equal weight, and not everything even matters! Wear somewhat different socks? Guess what, in many instances, no one will even notice! Not all, but many. Miss out on some tiny little thing?...it really does not matter in the overall scheme of things. I think that it is important that one is open to new ideas and experiences throughout life, and strive not to become stagnant...but as I have observed in those decades older than myself, some things just do not matter as much as we tend to think that they do... I have found, in my striving for "perfection", to keep this in mind...

William said...

A lot of guys spend a lot of time in the office because it's far easier to feel competent and in charge there then it is in a domestic setting. It takes an almost infinite number of practiced skills to please a woman. Double entry bookkeeping is far easier to master.

William said...

Good advice. If only DaVinci and Ben Franklin had taken it, what wonders they might have achieved.

Freeman Hunt said...

You're a human being! There are so many things! Don't buy into systems that want to organize you. You're a person, not a desk, not a robot.

Harold said...

Kind of opposite of what I have found in every volunteer organization I have been in. Successful leaders of volunteers operate by the mantra- If you want something done, ask a busy person.

And joats wouldn't exist if all followed that silly advice. Everyone who knows a jack of all trades relies on his knowledge, help, and advice. And he got to be a joat by taking advantage of every learning experience available.

As for fatherhood, if you have a Mark 1 Mod 0 family, father works and wife is a homemaker, the most important thing you can do a a father is set a good example and bring home the bacon. And set a good example at everything else. Be a youth group leader, take them to church every week, all that standard stuff.

Hattie said...

Questions, questions.

Bruce Hayden said...

Why is it not OK for some people to be generally good at a lot of things and other people to be more specialized? Aside from the practical shortcomings of such a system as Prof. Althouse noted, it doesn't take I to account that some people are better suited for specialization than others are.

I think that it is just fine that some people are decent at a lot of things, while others of us are more specialized. You really need both types.

The reason that you really can't be very good at a bunch of things is that you are competing with people just as smart as you who concentrate on just that one thing. For me, it was software, and when I was doing it professionally (and for some of the years before), that meant 10-14 hours a day, 6 days a week, for better than a decade. I could never bring that intensity to bear on my later career, that of a patent attorney. When I was involved in software, I read computer manuals for entertainment. And, I know people who do that in IP law. Just not me. And, so, while I may be good at patent law, I will never be great.

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of guys spend a lot of time in the office because it's far easier to feel competent and in charge there then it is in a domestic setting. It takes an almost infinite number of practiced skills to please a woman. Double entry bookkeeping is far easier to master.

Double entry bookkeeping is actually fairly easy to master. I remember my first accounting class - I kept waiting for the gotcha moment, and it never came. We got to the final, and I got a high A. Next semester, another fraternity brother and I got into a contest about who could ace the class with the least number of days of attendance in class. He won. We both made the mid-term and final, but I made the mistake of going the first day to class. It may have helped though that my father has a business degree, and his mother had taught accounting at the same business school where he got his BS and I got my MBA.

But, back to your real point there. I think that your emphasis is maybe off a bit. My view is that males are geared to compete with other males. We do it throughout our lives, until we go through male menopause (or thereabouts). At one point it was hunting, then maybe combat, and later, what some have termed pseudo-combat, which is where many of us males spend most of our working lives. You compete with the other males first to acquire a mate, then to support that mate and your children with her.

This inter-male competition has brought us much of what makes our lives easier. Most of the real innovations over history, including the Internet that we are using today to communicate, as well as the computers, etc. And, built the buildings, the roads we drive on, the dams to bring us energy, etc. But, women have moved into these areas, and to some extent, don't need us as much to support them and their children, and a lot of young males seem somewhat adrift in their lives as they struggle to fine something to replace this with. Thus, the slacker generation.

For eons, until maybe I was graduating from college, women were dependent upon men for their support and that of their children. That was fulfilling for a lot of males. But, as that dependence has continued to lessen, a lot of the young males seem lost. Home shouldn't be the place where you compete. Rather, traditionally, it has been somewhat of a safe place from competition. And, that maybe one of the unforeseen consequences of educating our young women, and then allowing them into traditional male spheres of competition, such as business.

CStanley said...

Besides the waste of human capital as I noted above, it also occurs to me that a system such as this would stagnate over time.. We need the cross pollination of ideas which comes largely from the people who do multiple things,

Rusty said...

I ndon't think we really ever master anything. We become involved in the intricacies and rythems of our desired choices and immerse ourselves in them. For those lucky enough to find something-or does that something find you?-that takes all of your focus.
I once asked my gaughter, the artist, what she found so compelling about it that she could sit for hours on end with the same sheet of paper.
She thought for a minut and rewplied," I don't know how not to." I got the same reply from my neice who immerses herself in mathematics.
To not do those things somehow makes life, for them, incomplete.

Tibore said...

The real mistake is to take anything published at Lifehacker seriously.