John F. Kennedy is reported to have said, “bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like hell.” I’m not sure that Kennedy was right.
This quote lead me to a deep discussion with the Skinny Professor on the nature of focus. He believes that his ability to absorb information from across the internet, through multiple disciplines enables him to find patterns and make connections that no one else can. Which is true.
The only problem is that his addiction to the crack cocaine like properties of social media, email and the internet in general has reduced his ability to focus, and perhaps reduced his productivity.
My view has been that to be productive and think deeply, one needs time unplugged without distractions. I also need unplugged time that has nothing to do with work. I intentionally work in places where I have no internet access. (I can hear my readers’ cumulative gasps echoing through the optic fibres…)
The Skinny Professor believes that the reason he struggles with productivity isn’t the fact that he is biting off more than he can chew. He attributes his struggles to the fact that he doesn’t chew fast enough.
I, on the other hand, firmly believe that no matter how competent, intelligent and committed we are, as individuals we have limited processing capabilities. With a limited ability to chew and digest, we must carefully choose what we decide to eat. In other words, chosing things that have meaning and are of value, and fit with organizational objectives. Saying no to everything else. It is critical that we accept that we can’t do everything, because if we try to do everything, we do nothing.
I empathize with the Skinny Professor. I too am curious, and have a mild case of academic ADHD. He may be right that with the amount of knowledge increasing at a geometric rate, that the ability to gather information widely and integrate it will become a sought after skill. But the world celebrates those who get shit done.