Efficiency: A Letter to My Younger Self

Oftentimes and many years later we have realizations on how silly we were, how short-sided we thought, or simply how wrong we were. This is one I wish I could write to my younger self. As I journaled, I realized it wasn’t simply a letter to my younger self, but to many, many people today. A lesson widely needed.


I understand you want to be as efficient as possible. In fact, you want everything in your life to be as efficient as possible.

I think that is to your downfall and here’s why: efficiency is not the goal, effectiveness is.

Peter Drucker in his masterpiece The Effective Executive talks about this specifically. We need to be effective, that is the goal. And one concern I have with what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to squeeze every last penny out. You need to leave some money on the table. That is not a bad thing to do.

For example, if you onboard employees as quickly as possible with as little training as possible then you will get what you paid for. You will get a bad product. And you will have to pay for that for months and possibly years to come.

If you try to write up a big process real quick, give it one quick glance, and hit “send”, then you will find things you should have considered.

When you need to reconcile the accounting books and you “just want to get through it” because you have many other clients to work on, don’t be surprised when your errors get caught in review — and you look bad.

Don’t be shortsighted by the “wins” of today at tomorrow’s costs. Instead, invest today for tomorrow’s gains. Just like we need to get enough sleep each night in order to be effective, if we chew into tonight’s sleep to get a bit more done today we will waste the entire tomorrow. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Just because it’s easier to measure efficiency doesn’t allow you to take the lazy and less productive way. Go the more difficult and rewarding path. Go for effectiveness and win.

The Two Pennies

I went on a jog a few days ago. No earbuds. No screens. No music, audiobooks, podcasts—just my thoughts. I enjoyed the beauty of January, though we often think of it as dead and decaying. We long for spring.

Around 3 miles in I looked down and saw two pennies. I picked them up for my kids (I knew they’d be excited at the prospect of “having money”). Typically, jog for me means catching up on podcasts, listening to that audiobook, etc. It’s often about checking another thing off the list. Arguably this jog was 0% productive since I couldn’t check anything off my list. However, it cleared my mind. I thought at a different pace since I was focused on what was around me, such as noticing two pennies that I would never have seen before. I reframed worries and doubts that had grown colossal. I thought through opportunities that seemed out of reach. I realized many projects were neither important nor urgent, so I could put them to the back burner.

So while I’ll continue to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while jogging, I won’t do it all the time. Sometimes you need to spend an hour to reflect and absorb what you already know, to make those connections to things you’ve never made before. In short, don’t only ever put on your headphones to block the outside world, sometimes sit (or jog) and listen to that around you and your own thoughts.

Just my two cents.

If All You’re Doing Is Surviving…

Below is an example from my life about parenthood, but the principles to this story can be applied to all areas of life—work, school, volunteer, or whatever. If you’re struggling as a parent, it’s okay. We all are. Secondly, reach out for help—I do the same. We are that village that takes to raise all of our kids.

It must be a popular statement, or else it simply sticks out in my mind because I’ve begun to notice it everywhere. Here’s how the conversation usually goes:

Friend: “How old are your kids again?”
Me: “Their ages are…”
Friend: “Oh wow. Yeah. You’re just surviving. That’s all you’re doing right now.” (emphasis mine)

While I appreciate my friend’s compassion and validating my attempt at being a good parent, I’ve begun rethinking this line.

It’s not just one friend, either. It’s family. It’s many friends. It’s coworkers. The difficult thing is just that: so many people tell you this as a parent with young kids that you just accept that’s how life is.

But then what are you supposed to do? Bide your time until your kids grow up a little bit? Then you’re busy because you’re running them from school to soccer practice—oh, shoot! Then picking up the other one for ballet and then a quick bite to eat, home for homework, and finally exhausted on the couch! Then repeat the next day.

If you need to get past that period of life, then what? Teenagers? Ugh. I don’t even need to go there!

So if you’re just surviving with young kids, frazzled with being a soccer mom, and finally teenagers, then what? Wait till they’re out of the house? By then you’re in your 50s and thinking of retirement, grandkids, and if your bones weren’t hurting in their 30s (mine are) then your 40s and certainly your 50s.

There are no easy answers, only deep, soul-searching questions. But for those of you who are just surviving, I must ask the question, “what are you surviving for?” Are you surviving so that you can work to make the world a better place? Just to get by and hope bad vibes stay out of your way? So that you can live to see a concert, achieve a goal, unlock a quest, or see your kids attain _________? Is that it? Is that all?

We each have varying levels of hope for the future. Some are distraught, some are depressed, and some are optimistic—and some are in between. The purpose of this thought isn’t to be a depressant, but to awaken our souls to these questions. I’d rather go through life asking difficult questions that I may never get the answers to, than to idly sit by too afraid to open the door.

So, to those who have a family member with cancer. To those of us who are workaholics. To those of us who are in over their heads with debt. To those of us who can never seem to catch up. Who feel as if they aren’t even a half-way decent parent. Who feel like failures as parents. Who are cancer survivors. Who can’t catch a break. Who have recently lost a child, parent, spouse, or close friend. To those of us who simply feel like we’re only surviving. Here is the message: there is hope—we just spent a month sharing the Christmas story. Read it (the real version, not the fluffed up Santa version).

However, even if you’re not religious (or don’t want to discuss it), spend time with a close friend or family member. Deepen the bonds you have—or feel like once had—with that person. Shed your toxic relationships. Get away and reflect on your last year. It’s not going to be easy. But go on a walk, let it out (cry, if needed!). You can’t move forward in life if you disallow yourself to share with others and yourself. Be willing to reflect on your past, current situation, and dreams for the future. If you do that, you may find that all you’re doing is surviving, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll begin to find hints of meaning.

Reflections on Robinhood’s checking & savings fiasco

We in fintech often confuse Type 1 vs 2 decisions—reversible/not reversible. Robinhood reversed it, yes, but at high cost. As great as tech is, disrupting existing systems first requires wading through minutiae of regs + history.

It’s truly amazing to be part of companies and watch other companies move fast and do incredible things. And perhaps if I were on the Robinhood team I would have come to the same conclusion they did (our hubris will convince us we would “never have done ____________”), but these stories still illustrate to us several key principles:

1. Moving fast is high risk. If you can stomach that risk, great. But be prepared for some decisions to blow up in your face.

2. Ask for counterpoints. Groupthink is deadly. Ask counterpoints from those who agree with you will give you exactly what you expect — not much. Solicit from those who disagree or are willing to disagree.

3. Conduct pre-mortems. While not bullet-proof, when we’ve conducted a pre-mortem (assume your action will fail, and discuss why it did) to poke holes. This helped us identify many of the core issues we would inevitably face. Instead of concluding that “yes, this is awesome” we were able to comprehend, “yes, this is awesome, but _____________” to have a sober, realistic understanding of the land mines that lay ahead of us.

4. Execution is important, but pre-work is even more so. Think of it this way: if you give a presentation on a topic you’ve never spoken about before, where do you spend more time: preparing for your presentation (thinking, slide creation, rehearsing) or the actual presentation?

Sleep on it. I’ve been part of countless decisions where we did “research” (usually about 20 minutes or less). If we only had dug a little bit deeper, we would have realized some glaring issues.

5. Lastly, humility. You are human, you’re far from perfect and you are certainly not invincible. Be the leader who admits they’re wrong, don’t be the leader who is incapable of that.

https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-robinhood-broke-20181217-story.html

https://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-on-type-1-and-type-2-decisions-2016-4

Affirmation

You check your email. There may be a lot, or there may be a few, but tonight (and it’s Sunday night before a big week) you see one from your boss—or sometimes your boss’ boss. You click on it and see his question. It looks something like this:
Hi [your name],
Please give [name of topic] some thought so we can discuss tomorrow.
And sometimes there is the second piece:
Here are a few thoughts:
  1. We could do it _______
  2. In the meeting, we could focus on ________
  3. [something either wildly different or adding to the existing options]
Sometimes it’s harsher, sometimes it has a specific direction, and sometimes it’s about major obstacles/issues that must be addressed.
You pause. Whatever is physically going on around you at that moment just blurs out. You don’t have an immediate response and so you begin to question yourself. “Do I have what it takes? Can I do this? What if such and such happens?”

We do this to ourselves all the time. We get psyched up. We rev up our fear engine. We go a bit overboard and then our spouse, significant other, friend, or roommate pulls us back to reality. “Man, you’ve got this. You’ve seen this movie before.” And that’s when it dawns on you: your problem isn’t this issue, it’s that you’ve labeled yourself as an imposter and you’re (subconsciously) looking for evidence that you’re a fraud. Instead, when was the last time you got a challenge from a boss, customer, prospect, or project manager and instead told yourself, “I may not have the exact answer at this very moment, but I’ve got a track record of figuring out things that I never knew before. I’m excited and looking forward to this challenge.” Using “track record” and “I’m a problem-solver” aren’t just for your resume, they’re for your every day.
This isn’t some “everybody gets a trophy” BS. Yes, there are people who already think too highly of themselves and they need to come down from the clouds they’re on. And even if they think too highly of themselves, it’s likely because they don’t believe in themselves and crave outside affirmation.
So next time you get that email, phone call, text, or Slack message, stop for a moment and think about it. Even if it is outside of what you believe you’re capable of, use it as a learning experience. The best way forward is to ask questions. Gain insight.
But we get so caught up in the minutiae. There are a million reasons it would fail and the best is that we don’t even try. How many inventions would never have been invented if we, as humanity, simply gave up? I’m sure explorers such as Marco Polo or Captain James Cook had a few more concerns about traveling the unknown world with monsters, demons, and truly foreign lands than we do about our current obstacles. This isn’t self-help affirmation, but an honest question of asking ourselves whether we jump to conclusions too much? What is it that we fear?
If, upon reflection, you decide it’s truly too much, then why and what can you do to get there? What are the steps necessary to accomplish your goal? Break them out. Write them down. Sit down with a friend, spouse, colleague, and family and share your vision and ask for critique.
Because what’s often worse than attempting some major challenge is the idea of sitting alone with our own thoughts. And that, as we know, is filled with anti-affirmations.