Three Things You Shouldn’t Be Distracted By

In the ad business, there are a lot of things that will compete for your attention on a daily basis. Sometimes it helps me sort through my priorities by putting them in these categories:
1) Things That Matter/Don’t Matter
2) Things You Can Affect/Can’t Affect (right now)

If you’re into Venn diagrams, it might look like this:

Anything that doesn’t fall into the sweet spot (something that matters AND you can affect right now), is a distraction. Don’t let it be. Focus. Your work, right now, is what matters and what you can affect.

There are three topics that students sometimes ask me about:
1) Salary
2) Awards
3) Title

99% of the time these things are distractions. They fall outside of that center area.

SALARY: You negotiate your salary when you switch jobs and you might occasionally get a raise. But for the most part, your salary doesn’t matter on a daily basis. And the way you affect your salary is to do consistently great work. So don’t think about your salary. Focus on your work.

AWARDS: Award shows are full of brilliant work, but they’re also political, subjective and for the most part arbitrary. So while award annuals can be great for inspiration, trying to figure out why a campaign won an award and how you can emulate it leads to distraction and potentially madness. If you do snag a big award, good for you. It can open doors. But a common side effect is an inflated ego. It’s your prerogative if you want to weld your Cannes Lion to the hood of your Cadillac, but my advice would be a slightly more humble approach: say thanks to those who congratulate you, list the award on your resume, then put it in a drawer and forget you ever won it. Winning awards comes from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

TITLES: This may be the most arbitrary of them all. Different agencies have different structures and different systems, and titles at some agencies are more meaningful than others (a black belt under Dan Wieden means more than a black belt under Joe Schmo). Plus, it’s become trendy to rename titles so they sound more progressive (Senior Visual Content Engineer?), so they’re becoming even less meaningful. I’d say titles almost fall outside of the “THINGS THAT MATTER” circle. And the little they do matter, they’re like salary and awards in that they follow from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

Focus on your work. Focus on your work. Focus on your work. The one thing that you can impact right now. And it should go without saying that time spent thinking about/discussing the salary, title or awards of other people is an even bigger distraction. Because not only can you not affect those things, they don’t matter.

Know When To Work

I don’t know about you, but around 2:00pm, my brain turns to mush. It stays that way for a few hours. My good times to work are first thing in the morning and late at night. For awhile, my partner and I were blocking off mornings on our calendars so nobody could schedule meetings for us then. We did all our concepting before lunch, then spent the afternoon handling meetings, emails, expense reports, all that low-brain work.

You should figure out what works best for you. If you work best at night when it’s quiet, try to get in the habit of sitting down and at least jotting down some ideas then. And if you feel like you’re in the mood, don’t let it pass you by.

A few months ago, Greg posted the idea from Stephen Covey that our tasks can be divided up by their urgency and their importance. He basically argued that we spend most of our time doing urgent but unimportant tasks, leaving important things with no deadline (all those big ideas that you’ll get to one day) on the back burner permanently.

My good buddy Brian Button just sent me this great post from Mark McGuinness that argues essentially the same thing. To him, we get our priorities backwards, doing reactive work (emails, returning calls, etc.) first and leaving our big creative tasks for the dusty hours of the day, when our brains are running on fumes. Thus, our novels never get finished, our websites remain half-vacant and our great side projects never become more than cryptic sticky notes above our desks. I encourage you to read Mark’s post. Creative people are fueled by the big ideas. We do ourselves a disservice when we don’t follow through with them.