The Danger of Being a Do-er
Are you a do-er? Someone who likes getting things done, achieving goals, and being busy? And when someone makes a good suggestion or asks you to take on a task, do you like to jump on it and get going right away?
My husband observed that about me last week, and boy was I annoyed (which is a sure sign he’s right!). Instead, I fancied myself to be a strategic thinker.
But on reflection, my behavior is definitely do-er, through and through. Not only do I get a sense of accomplishment from getting things done, it’s even joyful for me.
But somehow, I saw it as a negative. I guess we always want the things we don’t have. And as Groucho Marx said, “I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”.
My husband went on to explain that it’s great that I’m a do-er. The world needs people who get things done rather than only talk about it without taking action.
While I know he’s right about that too, I’m also aware of the downsides of being a do-er.
In my experience, there are at least three dangers for us do-ers.
Busy doing the wrong things
The first is that I like to be busy doing things. But are they the right things? Am I expending a lot of energy splashing around but not getting to the other side of the pool? Or worse yet, running really fast but in the wrong direction?
One of the CEOs in my Idea Enterprise group advises people to adopt the “ready, fire, aim” approach rather than “ready, aim, aim” and never taking action.
But we do-ers are already on the “ready, fire, aim” course. The problem is, you can get pretty far down the road before you wake up one day and wonder how you got here, and whether it was worth it.
Do-ers need to guard against being like moles who dig away 24×7 and find themselves at the center of the earth rather than going across the continent as intended.
True, sometimes you can’t know if something was worth it until you’ve done it. But still it’s useful to check in to see if you’re in the right zip code during the journey. It’s good to make sure you’re directionally correct, and not wait a decade or two before evaluating.
The stress of “what’s next?”
The second danger is stress and anxiety. It’s nerve wracking when you’re not sure of what to do next, especially when you’re worried whether you’re doing the right things.
And when opportunities come up that aren’t on your list of things to do, it’s stressful having to figure out on the spot whether to drop everything and take on that new project, or stick to the original one.
A life of regret
And this leads to the third danger, which is having a busy life doing what others have put on your plate, then looking back and regretting how you’ve spent your time and energy.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, David Letterman talks about looking back at his career as a hyper successful talk show host and wonders, at the age of 69, whether that was enough. He seems to conclude that it wasn’t, saying, “I’m a little embarrassed that, for 33 years, it was the laser focus of my life… It took a lot of energy, and it probably would have been better expended elsewhere. Now it just seems like, really, that’s what you did?”
The way forward for do-ers
If you’re a do-er too (or know someone who is), then I want to share a great way forward. It’s called having a game plan.
Create your Game Plan
What I mean by this is a written plan that goes beyond just your daily “to do” list. I’ve recently put mine together based on one I’ve used successfully with my clients.
It starts with your vision of a successful life, then links back to interim milestones you need to reach for your vision to be true, and then identifies a few priorities for the next 90 days along with the associated specific action items. Anything that doesn’t fit with the 90-day priorities goes into a separate “not now” list.
Refer to the Game Plan
The benefit of that game plan is to help you decide what to do now versus later versus not at all. That’s why it’s important to have it in writing and in a place where you can refer to it regularly.
For me, having that written guide has been essential, as I’ve had several new proposals come my way in the last month.
Historically, I would say “yes” to all of them because they’re all great projects. Then I would suffer because my efforts would be spread across too many things, many of which had nothing to do with the most important things I want to accomplish.
Now I have a document on my desk that I can refer to to ensure I'm making the right decisions on what to say “yes” to and what to turn down. Or at least say, “not now”.
Thanks to referring to my game plan, I’ve discovered that two of the new proposals don’t deliver on either of my top priorities for the next 90 days. As a result, I’ve put them onto the “not now” list and given an answer swiftly to the proposers. I’m sure this will go a long way toward preserving my relationships with them as well.
Your game plan helps you create a really useful to do list that represents your most important priorities. It helps you make conscious choices so you know why you’re doing some things and not other things.
All you have to do is refer to it.
Refresh it regularly
For me, this one-page game plan is a living document that I refresh regularly. I recommend that you do the same. As things change, it’s important to amend the document. And when the 90 days are almost up, it’s time to review what you want to prioritize for the next 90 days.
As I’ve become clearer on my priorities, I’ve moved more into the “not now” category so I can actually accomplish the few most important ones. For do-ers, this “not now” category is a life saver.
Otherwise, it would be all too easy to get distracted and go off on a tangent that makes you miss the main point. It’s like those cooking competitions where a chef creates the perfect dessert, but neglects to have the main course ready at the buzzer.
When you have your game plan, you can go forth with confidence knowing that you’re working on the right things. Over time, you will look back and feel proud that you’ve accomplished what matters most to you. You will live a no regrets life. What more can we ask?
So if you’re a do-er, schedule time to put together your game plan so you can stay on purpose. And if you know and care about someone who is a do-er, show them this blog post so they can enjoy a wonderful no regrets life too!
Leave a comment and let me know your next steps for creating or executing on your game plan.
Good article. It reminds me of a decision track I had to make in the past year. As I was laid off, I made finding a new job a priority, which has taken longer than expected. Furthermore, by my own reckoning I have a higher life priority than finding a job. I could have taken a risk by financial and other considerations to take a chance on pursuing the higher life priority. It is conceivable I might have made significant or complete progress on both priorities. Alternately, I could have failed on both goals. While I am being deliberately vague about what the other priority was, I am open to thoughts on how to make priority decisions, knowing there are significant financial and other real consequences regardless of whether the hoped-for goals are achieved..
That’s a tricky one, indeed, Udo.
I think the first priority is to make sure your basic needs are met, including having sufficient financial resources to support you and your family, at least for a while.
Along those lines, I have come to the view that we are all better off if we can identify an independent way to generate cash flow that doesn’t rely purely on having a job. That could be some kind of freelance work, having a network to turn to as a consultant using the skills we’ve developed, having a rental property, being a paid speaker, etc.
Once you’ve taken care of that, it’s easier to look at other goals. It’s hard to concentrate on a higher element of Maslow’s hierarchy if some basic physical and safety needs aren’t met.
In an ideal world, one could spend the majority of time on one main goal, say 80%, and then start laying the groundwork for the next goal so that you’re not starting from zero when it’s time to switch priorities.
The other reason I like the 80/20 approach is because variety makes life more interesting, and often helps us be more effective in everything we do. It’s similar to the concept behind cross-training rather than training just in your core sport.
Hope that helps.
I really like your idea of a game plan because I find myself so busy and oftentimes on things that do not help my career. But I’m struggling to articulate my game plan and to figure out how specific each interim milestone should be. Do you have any guidance on how to develop a game plan? Are there perhaps questions I should ask myself?
The game plan is a core part of what I work on with my coaching clients, and we also cover this in detail in the Accelerate Your Career online program. While there isn’t the room to go into that level of detail in this comments area, here are a few thoughts that may be helpful.
I would start with imagining your longer term vision of how you want your life to be. What does that look, sound, smell and taste like? What would you love to be true, and what would be awful (and to stay away from at all costs!)?
Then ask yourself what things need to look like in the interim (choose some time frame between now and your longer term goals). What accomplishments would you need to have? What things would you need to have learned? What people would you need to know? Being reasonably concrete and coming up with things that are measurable are helpful.
Finally, what do you need to do in the near term to make those things come true? What are the top priorities you need to have right now? And equally importantly, what items are NOT priorities right now?
And every day, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this and how does this serve my bigger mission?”
Hope that helps. Let me know how you get on!
I’m very much a do-er.. my company relies on me heavily because they know I can get things done.
However, one downside I’ve noticed, is that I see that I can get pigeon-holed and have lack of movement.
If you’re the one getting things done, will you be looked over for promotions, because who would do all this great stuff now?
I’ve had management give me tasks they knew they couldn’t complete. And after doing all the analysis and work they would take my work up the chain to higher levels of management and I was never in the room. They would get the promotions and I would stay in my current role.
How do you balance this?
What you’re discovering is that being heavily relied upon is a double-edged sword. Challenge yourself to stop being so indispensable for what you currently do – could you start training others on your team or in your group to learn parts of the tasks, or even become an understudy for you on all of it? And could you stop doing some of it and free up time to take on new challenges? You may need to ask for these new opportunities as bosses are rarely mind-readers, and they’re unlikely to disrupt what is “a good thing” (ie, your doing everything for them, especially what they cannot do).
You don’t need to make a sudden overnight change, but just start noticing when and how you can shift the balance. You may only need to shift it 2 percentage points. What I mean by that is there is a HUGE difference between 49% and 51%. And that may be just what you need – the difference between being on one side of the line and the other. But if you’re starting from 5%/95%, you’ll need to make a bigger swing. Start noticing and then you can decide what to do.
As for not getting credit, I wonder if you could consult with your more senior mentors on ways to get recognized for your contributions. Generally, it helps to build your network of relationships with people outside of your immediate group and also externally to the organization. When you tell them all the cool things you’re doing and the ways you are helping the team, then more people will see what you are doing and start talking about your contributions.
I also wonder if you could talk to your boss about wanting to keep learning, growing and advancing, and asking for her/his help and advice on doing this. Get some specific actions that you could take together. Before you say yes (or as part of the deal), negotiate to be in the room when they’re presenting your work (e.g., “I’d be happy to help with this, and I’d like to be there to see you present this so that I can be more helpful to you in the future. Plus it would mean a lot to me to learn from watching you in action.”). If your boss isn’t willing to go there, then that tells you something too…
Remember, if you keep doing exactly what you’re doing, you’re likely to get the same results. So perhaps it’s time to get some input from your mentors on the things you can do differently going forward, and experiment with some of them to see what works best for you.
I love this post, really great advice and I am going to start on my one-pager today.
How many priorities are realistic in a 90 day period?
I would go for no more than 3.
That was a great blog. I can totally relate it to myself, I have been getting so engrossed in being a Do-er that I lost sight of the bigger picture, but I have scaled back and consider what is a priority and what is a “not now” on my daily work schedule. It has really brought perspective than being a beaver munching away.
The article hit home with me. Thank you.
You are welcome! I’m so glad this helped. I’ve been there myself…