PJ Onori’s blog

Tend your garden

“I’m too busy to do what it takes to stop being too busy.”

I’ve seen this work dynamic a thousand times over. Workplaces focus on completing the next task as quickly as possible–with little regard for its aftermath. Corners are cut, messes are made and then its on to the next, next task. After enough time, general disorder sets in. It often takes the form of:

Disorder creates micro-inefficiencies which make easy tasks difficult. Less is achieved with greater effort. And there’s even less time to do what it takes to stop being too busy. The cycle only exaggerates over time. That, friends, is a doom loop.

What’s worse? Multiply this by the number of coworkers also struggling with disorder. Even if only one team member working in disorder, it’s likely affecting others. Given most teams work in shared spaces (e.g., Figma, Google Workspace, etc.), our personal mess is everyone’s mess.

Working in constant disorder has little upside. It slows you down. It’s stressful. It distracts from more important work. Worst of all, the longer it goes on, the more work it takes to fix.

The work needs to be done, but not at the cost of constant diminishing returns. Quantifying inefficiency can be challenging and every company will have its own threshold of tolerance. But at some point, focusing on improving one’s own efficiency is of greater value than continuing forward at an impeded pace. Let’s not forget the important issue of mental health. Burnout is figuratively and literally killing people. Addressing disorder is an opportunity to help employees’ wellbeing and the company’s bottom line.

Ideally, companies would allocate time in projects to address these issues. In my view this is the straightest path towards stunting systemic disorder. However, I haven’t regularly seen that be the case, so let’s discuss Plan B: Personally carving out time to create order. Let’s call it garden tending.

So, what should this look like? It’s going to vary by individual, but I can tell you how I’ve started. I’ve begun by investing an hour every Friday to take on basic orderly tasks. Namely:

That’s helped, only prevented things from getting worse. My goal is to be in a much better place. I plan to invest an additional full day per month to focus on deeper improvements. Specifically:

I plan to prioritize improvements that affect other people (such as shared docs and cloud files). My thinking is creating order for the most amount of people will be the most effective use of time. I aim to learn investment in creating order impacts long-term personal effectiveness. I’m confident the rate of return will significantly net positive, but I won’t know until I try.

Doing “the work” is why we get paid. But doing the work so you can do the work is just as important. This kind work doesn’t need to be chaos. There are many aspects to a stressful work dynamic that is not a personal choice. But the order we create for ourselves is. Do what it takes to stop being too busy. Tend your own garden. Everyone benefits in the end.