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Reduce Your Level of Insecurity Work

It's easy to fall into a pattern of incessantly checking business-related stats to soothe our anxieties. But how much data tracking is too much?

Creative professionals, entrepreneurs, and anyone else trying to make a name for him or herself has likely spent repeated amounts of time checking their website’s analytics, googling their name, reviewing their email alerts, their twitter search results, and even things like their bank account balance and sales data. Come on, admit it. You know you check some of this stuff a little too often. While all of this information is arguably important, none of it requires such constant review. In fact, much of this information could be revisited every few days or even weekly.

Nevertheless, we have the tendency to revisit this data constantly. Why? After multiple conversations about this phenomenal and instinctual time-sink (and some introspection), I have come to realize that a very human sense of insecurity is at the core of this behavior.Quite simply, I have come to define “Insecurity Work” as stuff that we do that (1) has no intended outcome, (2) does not move the ball forward in any way, and (3) is quick enough that you can do it multiple times a day without realizing – but, nonetheless, puts us at ease.

While I am sure that there has always been a tempt for people to spend their time on insecurity work, new technology and ubiquitous online access has made it easier now than ever before. Data that COULD make you feel more at ease is now always at your finger tips. Much like a drug that promises instant gratification. And therefore, we always have a desire to access it – again and again. Why? Because, deep down inside, we are always wondering what we are missing. We want to feel safe.

The antidote to the addiction of insecurity work is a combination of awareness, self-discipline, and delegation.

(1)The first step is to recognize what you do in your everyday life that is, in fact, insecurity work.

Whether it is googling the same search terms again and again or constantly checking your email inbox as if it were a boiling pot of water – develop a sense of self-awareness.

(2) The second step is to establish some guidelines and rituals for yourself.

Allow yourself a 30 minute period at the end of every day (or, if you dare, every week) where you can go through the list of things you’re curious about. Perhaps make all of these things bookmarks in a browser that you don’t normally use – and only open it when allowed!

(3) The third step, if applicable to you, is to delegate the task of checking on this data to a less insecure colleague who can review the data in moderation.

The colleague should be told to review the data daily and – only when necessary – tell you when something is wrong.

The purpose of reducing your amount of insecurity work is to free up your mind, energy, and time for generating and taking action on ideas. Insecurity work threatens to weigh us down and prevent us from escaping the never-ending ticker of what the world thinks. To envision what will be, you must remove yourself from the constant concern of what already is.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (11)
  • SteveOramA

    I definitely do all of the above probably a little too often.
    Thanks for the insight. It’s a great read and makes perfect sense.
    Now if I can just put it into action.

  • zsameer

    great article. thanks for sharing.

  • Imaan

    how could i be a better leader in school if i am constantly worried about getting a bad mark when we haven’t even finished the project yet?
    do you have any articles on that?
    btw, nice blog 🙂

  • Brett Greene

    Great post. There is also a psychological need fulfilled by Insecurity Work. We hate to feel like something is incomplete and every time we check email, Twitter or Facebook or do a similar repetitive task that does not move us forward, we feel like we have completed something.

    By their inherent nature, social networks and email generate insecurity because we know that we never read everything or catch up on the never-ending barrage of incoming content. You suggestions are a great step towards making peace in our digital world.

    One tip I would add is unplugging at least one day a week. I am on my Macbook, iPad or iPhone for at least 10 hours a day. I love my work and play online, but I crave offline activities to balance it out. So every Sunday I unplug from all devices, except the iPad for reading only. Sometimes I keep the iPad off too, but I stay off the computer, iPhone and especially email and instead bike, hike, read books, play board games with the famil;y or hang out with friends IRL.

  • Sergey Pedan

    I think most times I am acting so is not out of insecurity, but it is a sort of defense: when I have to do something too difficult, that would take more brain effort than I can make right now — not necessarily difficult a task, maybe I am currently just too tired — I start feeling nervous (and guilty) that I am still not working on it. And this guilt / nervousness pushes me to do just something to at least simulate being busy and calm myself: “see, I am not being lazy, I am keeping myself busy”.

    Another reflection is that being busy is a good excuse for constant putting off uncomfortable thought I have and difficult decisions I need to make. Sometimes it’s too frightful to think about my life strategy, career, health etc. and business is a working excuse for not doing that.

  • Susan / Q Digital Studio

    Totally agree Sergey. I too feel guilty if I’m not “doing something”. And checking all these stats is “something”, even if not productive.

    However, totally agree that it would be good to have some goals/purpose in mind when doing these, other than spending idle time. Enjoyed the article!

  • David Martinez

    I appreciated the article ! Creativity is being overpowered by insecurity. Forget the feeling of being secure. Throw yourself into the world of uncertainty and witness the growth of new expierences.

  • Jared Bowie

    Fantastic article, Scott! Definitely sharing this with my colleagues and friends.

    By the way, your book is making its way through my organization. There’s a copy on my desk as I speak! Congratulations!

  • Jared Bowie

    Very relevant article.

    I find myself too often tapping into the insecurity-maintenance stream, which is directly-related to a lack of clarity in my identity. For me, as a Christian, I must remind myself that “What God says about me is my identity” and not find importance or significance in work or busyness.

  • AldoAzDesign

    Great, thanks for that!

  • Maria

    Great post!!! SO NEEDED in our time.

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