Make An Impact – Do Things That Matter

Do you feel like you’re treading water – always doing things, always busy, but never getting anything of true value done? If you’re starting to stagnate, a period where the quality of everything you’re doing suffers and you’re starting to feel a bit down on life, what you’re missing is impact.

We live in a culture that equates business with value. If you’re busy doing something, or if you work insanely long hours, then you must be doing something right; conversely, if you only work 20 hours per week, you’re “lazy” and aren’t working hard enough to do your part in the economy.

Neither is true. As has been harped on so many times – you don’t need more hours, you need smarter hours. For those of you who are familiar with Pareto’s principle – 20% of your efforts bring 80% of your returns – you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

However, I want to expand this concept of doing things with an impact – doing the “essential” – to encompass our entire lives; doing everything with impact, clarity, and purpose, rather than doing things that are ineffective and are absolutely useless in the grand scheme of things.

We can break this concept of having impact and doing things that matter into two different parts: doing things on purpose and doing things with a purpose.

Impact

Doing Things On Purpose

How many of these things do you do per day?

  • Check facebook/twitter/your social network du jour every 5-10 minutes, even though you know nothing has changed?
  • Check your bank balance repeatedly?
  • Look at website data to get the latest on your hits, subscriber count, or comments?
  • Check your email or phone for messages from other people?

You’re starting to get the idea.

Ask yourself, “Why do I do these things, over and over again, for no apparent reason?”

The answer: you’re addicted to them. Doing those things has become a habit that you’re no longer in control of – hence, an addiction. No matter how hard you try, when you’re browsing the web, you always open a new tab and go to facebook, just to check out your news feed (and, to be honest – you don’t like half of the people in your feed anyways).

Again – it’s an addiction, because you’re not in control of yourself.

Doing things with impact – doing the things that truly matter – requires mastery of the self. It means that you have to do everything intentionally (note: mistakes *are* allowed, but as long as you’re aiming for impact and doing what needs to get done, you’re fine). That is, you have to do everything on purpose, with the intention radiating from your core.

(Here’s a cool exercise for you guys to do: for the rest of the day, try doing everything on purpose, and see how much more powerful and in-control you feel. This means that, every time you breathe, it’ll be on purpose, every step you take will be on purpose, and everything you say will be on purpose… . Don’t think about doing things on purpose too much, though – just do it with full intention.)

Doing things on purpose ensures that you eliminate what Scott Belsky of Behance calls “insecurity work” – things that you do that have no real purpose, but only serve as a way to soothe your anxiety. When you’re in total control in the moment – doing things on purpose – you won’t get distracted and turn to facebook or your text messages. If you’re working on something, you’ll acknowledge the urge to check these things, but you’ll keep working anyways.

At this point, you guys are probably thinking, “But Brett, how does this connect with making an impact?”

Well, guys and gals, the effect of doing things on purpose is two-fold:

1. It frees you up from distractions. When you’re doing everything on purpose, you’re not being distracted by the tweets and texts that you’re receiving. What would happen if you did check your phone? You would lose some productivity because you would lose the time it takes to check your phone (and whatever you do if you get distracted when you’re checking it) and your brain will have to switch from creation-mode to consumption-mode, back to creation-mode, which causes the quality of your work to dip.

2. You’ll be giving your full efforts, in the moment, to your work (or whatever it is that you’re doing!). The main consequence of this is that your work will be better, since you’ll be in that flow state of glory that we all know and love. However, an overlooked side effect is that when you’re in the moment, you are enjoying your work. Enjoyment of the work will result in more emotion being channeled through your work – which will leave much more of an impact.

Doing things on purpose is all well and good, but you’ve only got half the puzzle…

Doing Thing With A Purpose

You can do things on purpose for a long time, but if you don’t do things with a purpose, you won’t be making an impact at all. These two parts are like yin and yang – without both, you don’t have a whole.

Doing things with a purpose separates the men from the boys, proverbially speaking. If you’re busy all the time, doing things that don’t matter – you’re not making an impact. All you’re doing is busywork.

If you’re doing things with a purpose – a clearly defined, effective end – then you’re truly making an impact.

This comes with a caveat, though – you have to really question why you’re doing things in order to determine whether they’re going to have an impact. If they’re only going to make a small, insignificant difference, don’t bother, and focus your time and effort on something else.

Case in point: this brilliantly argued post by Julius Motal of dancePROOF.com.

To quote:

The “Wear Purple” day was created by a teenage girl, Brittany McMillan. Her idea came after a string of suicides by gay teens rocked the nation. Word of her event was spread by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. After that, it spilled into statuses and tweets; friends urging friends to stand up and wear purple.

But it doesn’t mean anything.

Changing your status or wearing a certain color shirt won’t help the cause. It won’t change the minds of millions of ignorant and homophobic folks who pollute the globe…

Do not misconstrue my words. I was deeply saddened by the string of suicides in this country and the recent assaults on gay citizens in various locations in New York City…

No, you didn’t effect change. Tyler Clementi is still dead, and I’m not sure the families of the dead are comforted by a throng of self-serving status updaters wearing purple…

I say go out. Teach the ignorant! Teach the young! Persuade the next generation so that they learn from our mistakes. Become a real passionate supporter of the cause.

I realize I quoted a lot, but Julius’s work here is absolute gold. Pure gold.

It demonstrates that, in order to properly make an impact, we have to do things with a purpose. Sure, spreading “awareness” about homophobia and the deaths of these kids is a purpose, but it’s not one that will actually have any effect on the world. For one day, people cared enough to just wear purple.

They didn’t talk to people about the dangers of homophobia – or any kind of discrimination, in fact. They didn’t create any arguments that disarmed the violence and the hatred that occurs in my country and around the world. They didn’t create any new dialogue. No, they wore purple.

That’s where my caveat comes in – doing things with a purpose isn’t enough. Your purpose, if accomplished, must enact a significant change. (Of course, what “significant” means is up to you)

What do you call something that you do with no real effect? Busywork. People who follow Pareto’s principle will know to scrap it entirely, or only do it when you have to (when the costs of not doing it are too great, even though it only maintains the status quo).

What we want to be doing here – work that matters – is the antithesis of busywork.

Enacting Change

I’m a firm believer that we’re all here to enact some kind of positive change on this planet through whatever means we can. That’s the impact we should be making.

If you’re not making an impact, you might as well not be living at all. Bold words, for sure. But they’re so true (and, please, don’t take them the wrong way; I’m not telling you to commit suicide. Odds are, you’re making an impact in ways you can’t possibly imagine).

How can you start to make an impact?

Start doing things on purpose and with a purpose, everywhere you go.

Tell your loved ones that you love them – and mean it. Why? It’ll make their day better, and it’ll make you feel warm inside.

Start pouring more of your efforts into your job. Do things with a purpose, because you’re trying to enact a positive change within your organization or for your customers. Do what’s needed – and more.

Start contributing to a cause you feel passionate about in a way that will actually leave an impact. Start talking to people about it – spreading not only awareness, but understanding as well. If you’re against homophobia and want to protect gay rights, start calling people out – even friends and family – when they use ‘fag’ as an insult or insult gays in any other way because of their sexual orientation.

This goes all the way back to my post on the butterfly effect.

You can change the world. How much you change it will be determined by how you do things – and if they’re the right things to do.

If you do the things that are necessary with presence, focus, and joy, while minimizing the amount of busywork you do, you’re golden.

It’s all a choice, though, and it requires some thinking. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself why you do things.

If you don’t like the answer… Move on to something else.

The world will thank you for it.

Note: this post was partly inspired by Peter Shillard’s guest post at Jonathan Fields’s website. It’s a worthwhile read!

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