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Urgent-Busy-Important Work

Urgent Work:

Tasks that pop up “unexpectedly.” Often these are tasks we’ve forgotten about or procrastinated over that “suddenly” reached their due date. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular time or on a particular day.

Our instinctive reaction is to jump to the rescue at the expense of whatever we had planned to do instead.

Busy Work:

Tasks that are on our to-do list forever. These tasks don’t move the needle of our success or progress in the right direction, but…. getting them off of our to-do list feels great, at least at the moment.

We think about these tasks as getting them “out of the way” and “finally off our to-do list” so that we can focus all our attention on the important work.

The caveat, by the time we are done with our busy work the day is over, and a feeling of dread sets in. Again, we haven’t done a shred of work that we know deep down to be far more important. 

Important work:

Tasks or actions that move us, our business or our relationship, or anything else for that matter, to the next level. These tasks follow one single purpose: deliberately following a goal and getting there.

These tasks are often scary, hard, challenging, something that may not come easy to us. We need effort, commitment, guts, trust in ourselves to do them. These are the tasks that, at the end of the day, allow us to grow, build confidence, make progress, create success, and find content and fulfillment.

No matter what we like to accomplish in any area of our lives, it’s the important work we need to focus on. 

What is your important work today that moves the needle in the right direction?

If you like to read more about this topic. Check out my blog post “Urgent vs. Important.

Say NO more more often

Imagine this situation: A friend, family, or team member approaches you and asks you for a favor. It’s a small favor, you think. And without even thinking about it, you say yes.

A couple of minutes, sometimes a couple of hours, later you realize that this small favor is really cutting into your day more than you had bargained for. You start to move your own commitments and responsibilities around to make it all work. You’re angry, and you feel stressed. You wonder why you said yes in the first place.

How do you avoid this situation? Don’t say YES right away. Ask for a bit of time to consider your answer and give it later. This way you can check in with yourself and your calendar what impact this YES will have.

In my blog “Darn, why did I say yes…. I wrote in more detail about it. Check it out. Or have a look at this blog.

Focus Time

In a previous post I explained why multitasking is impairing your productivity and efficiency and suggested turning off notifications on your devices.

I know this may be easier said than done. We don’t want to miss important calls from a prospective customer or an urgent question from a team member. So, how to go about it?

Here are 3 steps that’ll help you work around this problem: 

  1. Ask yourself the question: What is the time of day with the least calls or disruptions? This could mean dealing with kids at home, answering calls from your team or customers, you name it.
  2. This time with the least disruptions is your focus time, time to work on your complex and important projects or tasks. Turn off notifications on all your devices or set them on flight mode, turn off everything that would distract you, and yes, that means TV and radio, and get to work.

Everything that will land in your inbox or on your voicemail will be attended to after your focus time.

  1. Last but not least, don’t allow anybody to “steal” this time from you (emergencies excluded of course). Inform your team, your colleagues, or your family that you’ll be offline for x-amount of time and available afterwards.

I know, it’s far more difficult with kids. But even with kids there are periods in your day during which they won’t need you. Maybe you have to be more flexible. Maybe you have to limit your focus time to 20 minutes instead of one hour. Whatever time you can carve out make sure you use it well.

Remember, there is no such thing as perfect, but there is always the best we can do.

Slowing Down?

I subscribe to a newsletter written by Jonathan Fields which is all about living a good life. A couple of days ago I found an email in my inbox, and it started like this: (excerpt of Jonathan’s Newsletter):

Have you noticed, things tend to keep speeding up?

It’s a natural consequence of life. Compounded in a big way this year.

Our reaction, when that happens, is to speed up, ourselves, so we can keep up.

But, then keeping up becomes the new norm, and the firehose of pace keeps coming.

So, we cope by speeding up. Again. And, again. And, again.

At some point, we can’t handle it anymore.

Keeping up becomes blowing up.

We’re brought to our knees, forced to reckon.

A thought…

What if your reaction to the quickening cycle of life was not to speed up, but to slow down?

[…] Not in a “head in the sand” way, but in a “I know what matters” way.”

How often do we commit to something because we haven’t thought about the consequences for ourselves or what matters to us? How many times do we agree to do something because it is expected of us, but is not really what rocks our boat? Each time we give away a bit of our time…

The problem with that is, it is not only the time we give away, we also give away our purpose, our fulfilment, our contentment. We become irritated, frustrated, and may even lose our energy.

So, slowing down may be the only way you discern what’s important from what’s a distraction in your life, leading to better decisions for yourself and eliminating “random” commitments.

It’s your choice, and you may be surprised by what you’ll find.

Take a Break to Make Progress

Sometimes the best way to make progress is stepping away from whatever we are doing. It may sound counterproductive, so let’s have a look at why this may be true.

Imagine you are working on a project and have made quite some progress, but all of a sudden you get stuck. You run into a problem and, for the life of you, you can’t figure out how to solve it.

Instead of wracking your brain hour after hour, going for a walk, talking with a colleague, getting your daily exercise in, may be far more conducive to finding the solution because you allow your brain to shift and get a fresh perspective.

How often have you struggled with a task and just because you were called away from it you later realized that the solution was staring you in the face, you just didn’t see it? Or you notice something that has escaped you before?

Don’t wait for someone to call you away. Take the initiative!

Take a break. Do something unrelated. Give yourself some time to look at the problem with a fresh set of eyes. I bet you’ll come up with an answer.

Give it a try and see what happens.

Multitasking Kills Your Productivity

Every time I hear the word “multitasking” I cringe. Why? Because 99% of humans can’t do it. It’s a myth. What we may perceive as or call “multitasking” is in fact the splitting of our attention between tasks. Our brain very quickly moves back and forth between tasks and that is costing energy and brain power. 

The worst part? We tend to make mistakes or overlook important details and have to redo our work or correct our mistakes.

What does this mean in terms of our productivity and efficiency? Instead of being faster and more efficient, we actually need more time. This is particularly significant when we’re working on complex problems or tasks. Once taken out of our train of thought by a notification, a phone call, a quick chat, you name it, we need to find our way back to where we have left off. 

Do you have time to squander? If the answer is no, I invite you to turn off your notifications on your devices, turn off your TV, and turn off your radio when you need to concentrate on a complex task. Your work will be better for it, and you will be done quicker. If you want to read a little more about multitasking, go to my blog: The Myth of Multitasking