Eric Karjaluoto

What Needs Doing

The sushi shop down the street is rebranding because they lost sight of their priorities. (A rebrand won’t fix this.) A small organization I know, is losing internal morale because its leadership won’t identify priorities. Meanwhile, a friend is working all hours—because everything seems like a priority to him, and he can’t choose. Seems like all around, folks are struggling due to a lack of priorities.

The tasks you need to act on are quite often those you’re least apt to. When design studios need more work, they redesign their websites—instead of drumming up sales. When a writer finds time to write, she tidies her desk—instead of writing. And founders are reading articles on Hacker News—instead of fixing problems in their software.

It’s not as though these people aren’t aware of what they should do. It’s that indirect tasks tend to feel more manageable, at the time. This is the paradox that surrounds priorities: What needs doing is often obvious. In fact, this course of action can seem too simple—so you go looking for ways to complicate it. You write new plans. You tackle indirect tasks. Or, you think too much—and psyche yourself out of doing what needs doing.

Take today. When @shelkie and I started Officehours we knew our problem: we wouldn’t find advisors willing to share their time. We were wrong. Our advisor pool was strong, from Day One. The real problem? Valuable spaces are going unbooked.

Initially, this led me to fret. Did we get the formula wrong? Is the system broken? Are people not looking for advice? Once I calmed myself, I realized that none of these scenarios are likely. Many are enthusiastic about our idea. Calls are (for the most part) working. And my colleagues get too many requests for advice, outside of Officehours, for there to not be a need.

More probable? Site traffic is too low. We reached out to advisors and we worked on improving the system. But, we never put time into contacting those in need of help. Once I recognized this oversight, my priority became clear. I have to identify those who need advice and tell them about the service. Simple, right?

Creative work involves a sort of duality. You need that spark that drives you to pursue an incomplete (perhaps impractical) idea. You also need the discipline to figure out which tasks need doing—and do them—even if this feels tedious.

So, I’m spending my day reaching out to university/college professors. Writing these emails won’t be glamorous. Even so, they can help us reach those who’ll benefit from Officehours. There are many things I could do, today. But, at this moment, in my little world, this is what most needs doing.

How about you? What’s limiting your project from being what it could be? Ask yourself this question honestly, and you might find an answer that’s surprisingly obvious. Then, you just need to put in the time.

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