Don't take a knife to a gunfight - Next Action Associates


If you are reading this, you are like Novak Djokovic. At least a bit.

You haven’t won a bunch of Grand Slams of course, but if you have subscribed to this newsletter you are clearly interested in improving your mastery of something. If you are different from Djokovic, it is a matter of degree, not of orientation.

I recently read his book ‘Serve to Win’. His back story – growing up in the war that shook Serbia in the nineties – is very moving, but it is was as an insight into what it takes to play at the highest level of his game that made the book truly interesting to me.

This is a man who pulls out all the stops, all day, every day, day-in, day-out, for 11 months of the year, to be able to win against the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and every other pro on the circuit.

He is famously rigourous about what he eats, how much he sleeps, how he warms up, exercises, trains, and warms down – all of it. He’ll consider doing pretty much anything that might give him a performance edge over his rivals.

What he does not do is put in all that work then decide that – because his tennis racquet is a bit heavy – he’ll henceforth only travel to tournaments with a badminton racquet. That would, of course, be crazy.

And yet, this is what I see people doing with their tool-set when they travel. They have a fully configured laptop (or could do, from a financial perspective) but then decide that because it is too heavy or because it boots up a few seconds slower, they are going to travel only with their smartphone or tablet computer.

They can do what they like of course, but I find it a bit galling when these people say things like, ‘GTD is great, but it doesn’t really work when I’m on the road’. If you are currently trying to do real work on your phone when travelling, and are struggling to stay on top of it all, there is a reason for that: the tool you are using is not adequate for the speed and volume of what is coming at you each day.

I had one client who wanted to only travel with his iPad to keep weight down, but he was falling behind during every trip because he couldn’t really work on it. He could scan things, but not really do the work that he needed to do to stay on top of his stuff. Anything that couldn’t be done on his iPad he was basically leaving in a digital pile for when he got back to his desk. The nature of the pile was particularly demotivating, and left him spending way too much time digging himself out. The problem was eventually solved when he bought a Macbook Air and got himself a decent keyboard back.

Back to Djokovic. To expand on the metaphor, another thing he does not do is buy great tennis racquets and then not practice enough to be able to use them well. That too would be silly.

But his not practicing equates to having an amazingly fast computer but not learning to type, and not learning the key shortcuts that would really speed up the use of the programmes you are using most often. I often see people who aspire to be world-class in all they do, but figure that it will be okay to ‘hunt and peck’ at their keyboard for the next 20 years of their career. Again, we are all adults, but a bit of consistency would not go amiss.

Life is challenging, and life on the road is more challenging still; the constraints are generally greater, but there is no reduction in the volume of things that need attention. In those circumstances you want to have the right tools for the job.

Badminton racquets can be a thing of beauty, for sure, but when looking over the net at Mr. Federer you’ll want something more substantial than that to give you any kind of shot at winning the game.

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