Each week you’ve got things to get done whether it’s at home or at the office. The list exists and so often it only gets longer with little checked off.
Most of the people I coach suffer from this, a list that just keeps growing. When they look back at a day they realize that little of meaning was accomplished, all they did was put out fires.
Here are 3 ways that will help you make sure you get the right tasks done.
3 Reasons Why You Don’t Get Your Work done
You didn’t plan ahead
First, start by planning your week ahead. Sit down on Friday and look through all your projects along with your calendar. Fit in the work you need to do next week and pick out your single most important task for Monday.
Make sure you leave at least 10% of your time free. Some of your tasks are going to take longer or you’re going to get interrupted and they’ll need to get pushed off, so scheduling every minute of every day for some task is setting yourself up for failure.
Second, make sure you revisit the tasks you have planned the day before. Something will come up and derail some of your plans and by revisiting those tasks the day before you can revise the plane for the day in light of new information.
One key is to make sure you define the most important task and when you come in to the office only work on that task until it’s done or until the time you scheduled for it is done.
You let distractions get in the way
Deep Work by Cal Newport is all about how terrible distractions are for much of the work we do. We exist in a world that expects us to be present for these distractions though. We’re often expected to respond to emails right away, check Twitter every few minutes, and dip in to Facebook a few times a day.
Between all these breaks for distractions we really have little time to sit and focus on work so cut those distractions. Only let yourself check social media twice per day, and never let yourself check social media or email until you’ve finished that most important task for the day. If you have trouble with the self-control required then use an app like Self Control to block out the sites you shouldn’t visit when it’s time to work.
With some large swaths of uninterrupted time in place you can write that report in one shot. You can make some progress on the crucial project at work. You can write that book you’ve been wanting to.
If you feel like your boss may be a barrier to shutting off some of these communication channels, ask them how much of your time should be spent on ‘shallow’ work and how much should be spent on ‘deep’ focused work. Few bosses are going to say that you should be spending more than 50% of your time on shallow work unless you’re in support and need to answer emails or are in an entry level position.
Whatever the number is you both decide on use it as the reason you shut off email. You were focused on the deep work that needs to get done. Your coworkers will adjust quickly to slightly delayed response and realize that no one will die if they have to wait for an hour to get an email reply.
You don’t say no
The most productive word you have is the word ’no’. It’s the word that doesn’t add things to your task list. Years ago when I was working for a non-profit every time the boss asked me to do something extra in a day I’d ask him what came off my list. In 99% of the requests he ended up saying that nothing on my list should be removed and that he’d find another way to get what he needed or he’d wait.
Using this method I was able to say no to so much that seemed urgent but ultimately wasn’t actually important to our company.
Saying no goes further than work though. Say no to that friend that wants to have coffee all the time or say yes but only on Saturday mornings at 7am at the coffee shop near your house for an hour. If they really need to talk about something important they’ll make it work if they don’t then whatever the need was clearly wasn’t that important.
When a coworker tells you they have a problem with something and you could fix it, don’t jump in right away. Ask them how they would fix it. In most cases they know how they’d fix it, they just want a second opinion and had an outside hope you’d take on their problem for them. Listening for 2 minutes and telling them their solution matches up with what you’d do may save you a few hours of problem solving an issue that was never yours to begin with.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and like nothing is moving forward, step back for a second and think. Did you plan our week? Are you revisiting that plan? Are you cutting out distractions so you can focus on the work that needs to get done? Are you taking on problems that aren’t your’s to solve?
If you come up yes to any of those questions, then start making some corrections so you can keep being productive with the things you need to get done.
Photo credit: startupstockphotos.com