in life

A Jack of Nothing

I bite off more than I can chew. I take on too many projects. I say “yes” too often. I over-commit. I want it all. 

Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest.

Yes, I’m guilty of all of the above. Over the past few years I’ve taken on as many projects as I’ve been able. I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself and what I’m capable of – but perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that you can’t, and shouldn’t be trying to do it all. 

In fact, “doing it all” often leaves you doing, well, not very much at all.

The old creed “Jack of all trades, master of nothing” rings more true than you’d think. And while having a range of skills can serve you well, it ultimately leads to a mastery of nothing. And in today’s world, we need masters. We need, and you need to master a craft, your craft, with laser focus.

Jim Collins is quoted with saying, “If you have more than 3 priorities then you don’t have any”. This is an idea I’ve taken to heart myself. Instead of making a lengthy to-do list each day with 25 things to cross off, I focus on 3-5 things that I want to and must accomplish.

Whether it be coding a website for a client, writing a proposal, or going for a run. I write these 3-5 things down first thing in the morning and know that, however crazy the day may become, I’ll feel satisfied if I accomplish those things.

It all goes back to being a jack of all trades, and why you shouldn’t be. As my friend and (very-soon-to-be) colleague Micah so aptly puts on my company’s blog today, “do what you do best, and forget the rest”. 

  • Great writers write.
  • Great designers design.
  • Great programmers code.
  • Great entrepreneurs build and manage businesses.
  • Great athletes practice, train, and perfect their position.

That’s not to say a writer can’t code websites. Or an athlete can’t paint pictures. But in order to be great, in order to be the best, they put one focus above all others.

What do you do? What do you want to do? Focus all your energy and become one of the best who can do that. 

(Photo credit)

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  1. This is me. I completely identify. I love to learn and get my hands in everything. The problem is that I end up doing lots of things adequately—and few things brilliantly.

    I spent most of Saturday coding a website. Late in the evening, I thought, “Why am I doing this? This isn’t what I do best. I could have hired someone else for this part and spent my time doing what I do best.” Unfortunately, that’s a lesson that I seem to forget as often as I learn it.

    • Accepting what I’m best at, and more importantly, knowing what’s better left to others, is the only way I’ve been able to grow my business to what it is today. Just because you CAN do a lot of things, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. It may be easier said than done, but it’s 100% true.

  2. I don’t want to do what I do best because I already know how I get bored so therefore I’m really good at several things.  Barbara Sher has a book called ‘Refuse To Choose’ and labels people like me a ‘scanner’ personality type instead of a jack of all trades, master of none.  It’s a good read…you should check it out.

    • I agree to an extent. I’m not suggesting that you do one thing and one thing only. That would be pretty damn boring. But I am suggesting that focus is extremely important, and that being able to offer expertise, especially in today’s world, is paramount. Will def. have to check out Sher’s book. Thanks for the tip!

  3. So very true! I’m guilty of trying to be good at 5 different things at once, rather than be the best simply at one thing. Over the years, I also had to cut a few things down from my list and really focus on what I’m the best at, and then outsource or refer the rest at someone else who’s the best at what they do. Being good at multiple things at once is not good for you or the person you’re doing them for. Not only are you exhausted, but the person you’re doing things for is not getting the best you. Is that fair to them? Is it fair to you? So I agree Matt, focus on one thing and be the best at it!

    • Yes! I REALLY like the advice of having 3 priorities per day. 3 things to accomplish. 3 things you MUST accomplish. This is manageable and realistic, and will lead to a much less stressful life. Focus. Focus. Focus. :)

  4. Guilty of this. However the “master” side is right around the corner for me. All it takes is being proactive and focusing on being the best — ONE thing at a time!

    Thanks for the post — it was right on!

  5. Matt,

    I kinda agree. I’d probably spend  a lot of time doing productive things in relation to my skills. I do like to mix it up though, so I’m more than happy to be a jack of all trades in my free-time. Just the way I have fun I suppose.


  6. Fantastic post! Just discovered this blog and I’m quite impressed at how much I can relate (especially to this post). I tend to think I can do anything (and that’s probably at the root of all this), and there have been days when I sit there, exhausted, wondering why the hell I do everything I do when I should just focus on key things. Anyway, this post has inspired me to take a look at my “get to” lists and cut ‘em down.

  7. Soooo many people in the digital world suffer from trying to do everything themselves. Sure, in the process you learn a butt-load of skills that are super valuable, but you end up not being good at one particular area. 

    I have this problem with music. I can play 7 different instruments, but I’m not exceptionally talented at any of them beyond jamming and improvising.