When in Rome, do as the Romans do* - Next Action Associates

(*Unless the Romans are morbidly obese, diabetic, mobility-scooter jockeys…in that case, do pretty much anything but what the Romans are doing)


The summer holidays are a distant memory for me now, but a couple of things have stuck with me from my trip back to ‘the other side’. What’s still present is primarily the differences between North America and Europe. Most noticeable upon arrival is the size of everything. Not just the continent, but also the streets, the portion sizes…and the inhabitants. It was adverts for diet dog food on the side of the highway that tipped me off that something significant is going on.

What became clear to me on this trip was this: in North America, you don’t have to make a special effort to become obese. Just eat what is easily available, drive to work, sit in front of a computer all day, drive home, watch a movie, repeat. You’ll be big as a house in no time.

If you do what everyone else is doing in the domain of food and exercise, you’ll get the results they are getting, which – at the moment – include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and horrifically stretched ‘active wear’. Not a pretty picture.

To be clear, I don’t see this as a failure of individual willpower. If 10% of the population was struggling with weight, that would likely be an individual issue. When 60% are struggling with their weight, it is more likely a systemic issue. The individual is not at fault. It is not that they have no power to deal with the problem, but the game ain’t straight. The deck is stacked against them.

In some parts of North America, it has become impossible to be more than a few metres from food at any given time. Not just any old food. This is food that has been designed to precisely play some primal chord in the pleasure and reward system in our brains. It has been made very, very easy to eat and eat and eat. Basically, the food industry is building billion dollar bullets with ‘bliss points’ and optimum ‘mouth feel’, and then employing the marketing industry to point a billion dollar bazooka at us hapless humans to get us to try those foods.

We are all (the trend is clear here in Europe too) subjects in a longitudinal study on the impact of feeding humans like French geese, but one that does not have the decency to put us out of our misery at harvest time.

With billions pointed at developing irresistible foods, and more billions pointed at marketing them to us, NOT becoming morbidly obese takes a considered approach and considerable effort. Some of that effort might look a bit strange, given average behaviours and what most people consider ‘normal’. Doing what it takes to live in a healthy, natural body might make you look a bit like a freak, as you consistently turn down the freshly baked triple-chocolate cookie/doughnut/cronut/whatever, while everyone else gets stuck in for ‘just one bite’.

In other words, if you don’t want to be part of the competitive fabric stretching freak-show, you might need to be a bit of a freak.

This is true in other domains as well. Do what is average in terms of cyber-security and you’ll get your identity stolen, and accounts cleaned out.

Do what is average in the domain of managing your workflow and that too will get you average results. Given current ‘average’ practices with workflow, those results include things like the following:

  • Living in overwhelm most of the time
  • Re-reading mails over and over because you are trying to manage your to-do list from your inbox
  • Being tethered to your phone – and allowing it to crowd out people who are actually in front of you
  • Never seeing your friends in the flesh anymore

In the world we have created, it takes no effort to get those results. In today’s world of work, you’ll get there normally and naturally if you just pitch up and pitch in with a bit of enthusiasm and not a lot of thought. Outside of work, the marketing industry is not just being paid by the food producers of our world. Hundreds of industries are paying similar sums to try to appropriate a share of our attention. Spare a thought for the poor consumer (that’s you and me) stuck in the cross-hairs of multiple industries at any given moment.

Given that this larger game is also not anywhere near being an even contest, is it any wonder that we are struggling with stress, overwhelm and distraction in our work and in our lives?

Not getting to that place takes some effort, and to avoid getting to that place you might need to do somethings that look a bit odd. Rigorous even, alongside what everyone else is doing.

Now, some people think what we propose for handling workflow management is rigorous, but look at the results that other people are getting with being lax about it. Frankly, I’d rather be rigorous and sane than loosy-goosy, out of my mind and out of control.

For instance, I also have a rigorous protocol about not shooting myself in the head. Never do it. Ever. Seems to work for me.

Once you get the principles of workflow and the cost of trying to ignore them, not paying attention to them is kind of the equivalent of shooting yourself in the head. A bad idea at the best of times.

For the record, here is the ‘rigorous’ protocol that we are actually proposing:

  • When you notice something has your attention, take a moment to make a note about it
  • Take some time each day to review those notes, and other incoming ‘stuff’, make decisions about what they mean for you, and put reminders about actions you want to take in a place you trust
  • Once a week, dedicate about an hour to getting the overview on everything you have committed yourself to doing
  • Use your intuition about what you do do, or don’t do, with the rest of the time available.

Rigorous? Dunno.

If the alternative is trying to get the organisational equivalent of a mobility-scooter into my inbox, I’ll be over here embracing my inner freak, doing a bit of light rigour.

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