A couple of weeks ago my shortcuts disappeared. Not all of them, but two folders I had carefully created and been collecting links in just vanished overnight. In the heat of the next couple of hours I got angry and frustrated, first at the technology and then at myself for not knowing how to extract just these folders from my whole disk backups.
Then I woke up. First world problem, right?
A friend and I were chatting yesterday about how, for all the things technology makes possible, which are great, it also creates activity that is not the same as useful work. (On that topic, there’s a great HBR article here about the tenuous connections between social media activity and bottom line performance).
I collected shortcuts thinking they might one day be useful, except I probably wouldn’t have remembered I had them anyway. Having lost them, I haven’t missed most of them, and the few key ones took me all of 5 seconds to recreate.
Scale that problem up to your job, your team or your whole business. How much stuff is going on that was a useful shortcut once but probably needs deleting?
Life, technology and your colleagues, with the best intentions, will continue to increase the list of things on your to-do list, and you, being good at what you do, will find the best shortcuts to get there. Leaders in particular often get promoted for their ability to solve problems, navigate complexity and give a clear direction. Those are all about creating shortcuts.
The problem comes when shortcuts get repeated without anyone questioning whether they are still useful or not. Reports that don’t reflect reality. Meetings that don’t make useful decisions. Systems and processes that are too stretched. Products and services that customers aren’t buying as often as they used to.
These days we are all busy. The question is whether all the activity is still useful. The most successful people I know are good at assessing messy situations, getting clear on what’s needed and finding shortcuts to get there. But they are also great at taking time to clear out old shortcuts, to make space for exploring the new things. It’s a useful skill to develop, in lots of aspects of your life.