I Bet You’re Thinking…

If I just work faster…

If I just get better at GTD or Inbox Zero or…

If I just find the right productivity guru

If I just find the right app for my to do list…

If I just get on top of my email…

If I just get up a little earlier…

If I just work a little later…

If I just work a little longer…

… I’ll get on top of this thing called life. I’ll stop the overwhelm.

Surely, I’m not alone wrestling with the fantasy that I can somehow do all the stuff that’s expected of me? That all I need do is fine-tune the machine that is me, and I’ll up my processing speed and get through it all?

Building Castles

Perhaps you’ve been to the beach, and, with your kids, you’re making a sandcastle by the sea, digging a deep hole.

At a certain point, you hit ocean level. The water starts filling up the hole. Part of you thinks:

If I just dig a little faster, I’ll get ahead of it.

But the ocean always wins.

So, too, with your Good Work. There’s always more of it than you can get done. You don’t win this game by getting more efficient.

Time to Ask Some Big Questions

At this time of the year, you just might be in “what the heck is happening in 2013” mode. What if you started by admitting that doing more faster wasn’t going to be the unspoken assumption? What if you asked yourself?

If there was one Great Work Project to do this year, what would it be?
And what would it mean to fully commit to it?

What are the obvious things to cut out and stop doing?

What do I love to do–and will say no to anyway?

What’s the thing I’m doing out of habit,
ancient momentum, unthinking commitment?

With whom do I need to have the tough conversation,
to let them know I won’t be doing what they hoped I’d be doing?
(Other than yourself, of course.)

What will I reluctantly hand over to someone else to do?

What will be different in how I invest in looking after myself:
more exercise, more sleep, more people-I-love time?

Let me know which of these questions feels most useful to you. Most challenging too. And what question would you add to the list?

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner and Founder of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work.  He’s written a number of books, the best known of which are Do More Great Work and the philanthropic bestselling book End Malaria, which has raised more than $250,000 in for Malaria. For more on Michael, visit his website or follow him on Twitter