Sometimes you need to walk further away from your destination to get there faster

The road that looks more promising at the start is not necessarily the faster one.

I was reminded of that yesterday as I went for a walk down the shops. Leaving our driveway, I had to options: left or right. My destination was towards the left and that’s the way I went.

As I was walking in solitude, I started to appreciate all the curves and twists in dirt road. I realized they make the path quite longer than it seemed. Along the way, I noticed a little footpath connecting to the road. I knew that footpath would eventually lead back to my house. It was the path I could have taken had I turned right.

On the way back, I went up that footpath for a change. It was steeper than the dirt road I took at the earlier, but also paved and straighter. Once I got back in my driveway from the path to its right, I realized it had been shorter than the one on the left.

I’ve always taken the path to the left because my intuition told me it was the fastest. It’s also the only one I can take with the car, so I guess I got used to it. Just because something seems faster or is habitual, it doesn’t mean it’s more efficient. This observation between my walking options transfer to work productivity.

Sending Slack messages to ask questions and assigning work to people seems like the fastest way to get the job done. It’s frictionless. It takes only a few keystrokes to initiate. And, by now, we’re all used to it. But it’s far from efficient!

Slack messages and emails pile up in queues that lend themselves to be processed first-in-first-out, burying important requests under trivial ones. Not to mention the context switch cost incurred every time we drop what we’re doing to addressing an incoming notification—it’s either that or we risk appearing inactive.

The fragmentation and lack of prioritization resulting by this unstructured approach to work damages our overall productivity. We need more rigor and more processes in how work gets generated and picked up by folks.

Logging a question in a ticketing system, or doing research yourself for 5 minutes before asking a colleague, might feel like walking further away from your objectives. But the true goal is to be productive overall, to steadily deliver value to your users, and for your teams to work at a sustainable pace. To get there, you might just have to walk the path that seems longer at the start.

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