The Tinkering Secret To Greater Productivity

What do you call it when work doesn’t really feel like work?

The Tinkering Secret To Greater Productivity
[Image: Flickr user Marc Wathieu]

“The idea of walking a thousand miles is instantly exhausting, but it’s also a distortion of reality,” says Marc McGuinness. “No one ever had to walk a thousand miles instantaneously.”


Instead, it’s step by step, moment by moment–helpful to hear when we’re staring down a gigantic, woolly project that we have no idea how to begin.

McGuinness, an author and coach, uses the tinkerer approach in his own working life. The drafting of his new book is less like work, more like play. To us, it sounds like a healthy sort of software-directed daydreaming:

A few months ago, I just created a file in my book-writing software and laid out the chapter headings, and just started playing around and rearranging them. And each time an idea came to me during the day, I just added a quick note inside each chapter. Recently I’ve been opening up the doc in the mornings, just looking at the table of contents, and just adding a few more notes here and there. It’s a slow ramp up where I just tell myself to add a few things here and there, no pressure.

I’ve written 12,000 words this way. I haven’t really started writing it yet. And since I’ve not been officially working on the book, resistance and procrastination hasn’t shown up for work either.

The idea, then, is to sneak around our own tendencies to procrastinate on super-immense projects. Instead of “designing a brand identity,” you’re just making a few sketches; rather than writing the Great American Novel, you’re just taking a few notes.

So the big intimidating project becomes a bite-size mind morsel–and you can snack your way into creative breakthroughs. As a bonus, you’re to-do list doesn’t become a list of shame.

Hat tip: 99u

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.