I have written about the difference between urgent, important and busy work in December. What I hadn’t thought of then is this wonderful brief story by Steven Covey titled ”Big Rock”. It’s about the important things in life, not just in our business.
Meir Kalmanson was inspired by the story and made it into a short film. Have a look and enjoy. It takes only three minutes, but these three minutes are well worth it.
Stop splitting your attention – get more done in less time
Do you know what sneaky distractions are?
“Half-work?” What’s that?
Beating the culprit one task at a time
Whether you are experienced in working from home or you were thrown into it because of the pandemic, there is one thing we all have in common: distractions. We all encounter them; we all have to deal with them. Some people struggle to keep distractions at bay, some seem to manage them more easily.
What’s the difference between the two?
I’ll hazard a guess and say, the ones who struggle the most and fall prey to distractions are the ones who may not even know what distractions they are prone to give in to.
Before you tell me that it’s perfectly obvious that your kids are the biggest distraction, I won’t argue with you. Having kids around and trying to work is challenging, to say the least. But truth be told, that’s only partially true. Even if you had the perfect working conditions you might fall into a far sneakier trap, splitting your attention between various tasks. It’s a major productivity and time thief and is called “half-work.”(1)
I call “half-work” a sneaky distraction because it is by no means an obvious one like checking Facebook, searching for something non-work-related on the internet or having to deal with cranky kids. We may not even be aware of this drain in productivity and squandering of time.
Let me explain.
James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits, coined the term “half-work.” He writes in his blog:
“In our age of constant distractions, it’s stupidly easy to split our attention between what we should be doing and what society bombards us with.”(2)
Instead of being fully engaged and focused on the work at hand, or any activity for that matter, we are prone to dividing our attention. Here are two examples to clarify what this means:
You start writing a report but stop randomly to check your phone for no reason or open up Facebook or Twitter. (3)
Your mind wanders to your email inbox while you’re on the phone with someone. (4)
Because we’re not fully engaged in and, therefore, not fully committed to and focused on what we are doing, it “takes twice as long to accomplish half as much.” (5)
The situation changes tremendously the moment we have a firm deadline. Think of the last day at work before going on vacation. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced it, but we get an awful lot accomplished that last day. Why? Because we don’t divide our attention between tasks, we eliminate distractions, and we’re 100% focused on getting done what needs to get done.
“This complete elimination of distractions is the only way I (Clear) know to get into deep, focused work and avoid fragmented sessions where you’re merely doing half-work.”(6)
But working fully engaged, focused and committed isn’t always easy because we are so used to splitting our attention.
Some days I find it hard, and I have to remind myself to focus and finish the task at hand, only the task at hand and nothing else. To make it easier I turn off my phone, close my email app and set a timer for approximately 30-45 minutes. During this time I’m not allowed to do anything but work on the task I set for myself. I’m not even allowed to go to the bathroom or get a coffee. After these 30-45 minutes I’m allowed to take a short break, but quite often I just keep working and finish what I’ve started. I only take a short five-minute break when I feel stuck or nature is calling. If you take a break, don’t check emails or look at any electronic device! The temptation to “quickly” answer a few emails is simply too great, and you’re back at square one.
Thankfully, some days it’s really easy, and the reward is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction and/or some spare time to go for a walk or play with my cat.
Just imagine what it would mean for you to focus and commit your attention to the work at hand instead of allowing your mind to wander?
Give it a try. Just make sure that you focus your full attention on the right work aka “important work.” If you need a refresher on what defines important work, jump back to my blog Urgent – Busy – Important Work and read it here and you’re well on your way to beating this sneaky time and productivity thief.
As a reward use the “extra” time to meet with a friend, physically distanced of course, play with your kids, exercise, go for a walk, read a book, you name it. Or use the momentum and dive right into your next important task.
Let me know what you think. There is always room for a note in the comments below. See you next time,
If you followed my Advent Calendar, you know that I shared some tips and food for thought for you and your business. The last one will be this blog: setting you and your business up for a successful 2021.
We all are happy that 2020 is almost over, and we can move on into a hopefully better year. There are things that are beyond our control, but there are also many things that will be up to us to make 2021 a good year. As you may know, I’m a big believer in planning. The reason being, without a plan you don’t know where to focus your energy and discern what is important. You may start projects because they appear interesting, only to find out that they are not the right move for your business at this point in time.
It takes some reflecting and strategizing to determine what your business needs right now, what projects to start, what projects to continue, and what projects to abort to reach your business goals. By the way, the same is also true for your personal goals.
Around Christmas and before the start of the new year is my “quiet time.” Most people and businesses take a break. It’s the perfect time for me to take stock and have a look back. I invite you to do the same.
The first step is looking back at what has happened the last twelve months, or whatever your chosen timeframe may be. What has happened, and what impact did it have on your business. Write it down.
Finding the Truth
Especially in cases where I haven’t achieved my goal(s), I dig deeper and ask myself WHY and WHAT happened. Be like Sherlock Holmes and find all the big and little things that have led to the current situation.
Please don’t fall into the trap of making excuses such as no time, no money… that’s not what we’re after. You may not have had the time, but there is often an underlying reason for that, the real reason. That’s what you’d like to uncover. You may not have had the money, write down why. The insights you’ll gain will guide your decisions for the next year or the time period you chose.
Maybe the cost for an assistant or a new team member is outside of your budget and you have to rely on the resources at your disposal. It means you’ll have to plan without having the additional help. Maybe a project went south despite a promising start. Figuring out why is essential for avoiding the same mistake(s). Maybe you haven’t reached the number of subscribers you had aimed for. Analyzing what happened will inform your next steps.
But it is equally important to look at the things that went well. Asking WHY in these cases will give you insights into what you should do more of. For example, you may understand what type of projects are a great fit for your company, you may find out which people you work with really well. You’ll learn what triggered people to subscribe to your new service.
Write it all down. The good and the bad.
Planning the Future
Now that you have a clear picture of where you are at with your business, you have to decide where you will go from here. Write down all the ideas, plans, and projects you have in mind. After you are done, take a close look at them and ask yourself which ones truly align with your business purpose and goals. If all of them pass this test, you need to consider the one or two that will have the greatest impact on your business.
You don’t need to discard the other ideas, projects, or plans. But focusing on one or two major projects will ensure that you stay focused and get things moving forward. It also helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed–at least some of the time–because you have too many balls in the air. A good rule of thumb is to account for problems along the way. Often things appear simpler than they really are. And experience has shown me that everything usually takes longer than expected.
This is it for me for 2020. I’ll take some time off and hope to see you again in February 2021.
I wish you lots of success, and may your businesses flourish and grow.
Why would anyone want to explain the difference between a to do and a project? The simple fact of the matter is, there is quite often a misconception about the two.
I’m sure you would agree that the redesign of a website is a project, a big one. But purchasing a gift for a friend… most likely not.
Let’s have a closer look at the two terms and see what qualifies as a project and what qualifies as a to do. Is the following a project or a to do? Buying a present for your best friend? The answer: it depends, and here is why.
It’s a to do if: You know exactly what to buy, where to buy it and that it’s in your budget.
It’s a project if: 1. You don’t have a clue what you want to buy and need to do some research. 2. You have to figure out where you will get what you’re looking for. 3. You don’t know if it’s in your budget.
David Allen, who created the methodology “Getting Things Done,” came up with a clear and simple distinction:
To Do: If only one action step is required to reach the desired outcome.
Project: If the desired outcome requires several action steps.
Why is this important? Because it helps you think differently about your planning and time commitment. There is a big difference between ordering something online vs. having to do some research and then moving on to the purchase. Sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it? But that’s not necessarily the way we think about it. By not being specific about the various steps (of this little project) we tend to greatly underestimate the time it will take to get it done. Our mind deceives us. Buying a gift for our friend equals to: “not a big deal” and “done quickly.” If, however, we consider the various steps, our mind changes from “done quickly” to “it’ll take a bit of time.”
If you look at the bigger picture it can turn into a vicious cycle. Because you underestimate the time you’ll need to accomplish something you constantly feel “behind” or playing catch-up which in turn results in stress. Something we all have enough of.
If this sounds like you and you feel you’re always behind and chasing time, there are three simple steps you can take to improve your time management.
Step 1 – Make a List
Make a list of all the things you want or need to do, either on paper or electronically.
Step 2 – Note All Necessary Steps
Determine what requires only one action step to be completed and what requires two or more action steps. Note all the necessary action steps required to finish each “project.” Remember, everything that takes more than one action step is not a to do but a project.
I’ll use my example “go grocery shopping,” something everyone can relate to. Here my process before I get into the car:
Plan what I will make for dinner.
I may have to check a recipe for ingredients and add any missing ones to my shopping list.
I’ll also check what I have to restock in the fridge and/or pantry. I add these items to my shopping list as well.
Step 3 – Block Time in Your Calendar
Blocking time in the calendar. What is the best time to work on my project? Again, let’s use the project “go grocery shopping” as an example. I like to go shopping when stores are not crowded, i.e. not on weekends and not around the time school ends. Having said that, in case I’m on the road and pass a store, especially one that is a little farther away, I’ll do the shopping en route.
After all, the whole point of this exercise is to make the best use of your time and eliminate as much stress as possible.
If you have recurring action steps, keep an eye on the time for future planning. The more you learn about the time commitment for various tasks, the better for your planning. Being more conscious about your time will help you make better decisions of what to do and when to do it.
Last but not least, let’s have a quick look at some electronic task management and project management systems. You’ll find quite a few. Whichever tool you choose, keep it simple. Use tool(s) that appeal to you, that are intuitive, and fit your work style. The process is the same, but instead of writing things on paper you collect your to dos and projects with sub-tasks in a task management tool.
My repository for projects and tasks is the Microsoft To Do task manager. I find it’s intuitive and easy-to-use, and it synchronizes over all my devices (laptop, cell phone, office computer, tablet). No matter where I am, I always have my phone with me and can easily add something. This way I don’t have to worry about anything falling through the cracks. Other task managers I have used in the past were:
Now over to you. What are you doing to keep track of your to dos and projects? Do you prefer a paper list or are you more an electronic kind of person? What tools are you using? Do you have any tips? Or are you struggling to keep track of everything? Let’s talk or let me know in the comments below.
Want to get more done? Stop Multitasking. Want to do better work? Stop Multitasking.
Do you struggle with too many tasks and projects and don’t know how on earth you’ll ever get everything done? My advice: Stop multitasking!
Except for routine tasks, we humans are not capable of it, at least the overwhelming majority of us. In fact, multitasking is a misnomer. The word suggests that we do two tasks at the same time, when in fact our brain switches back and forth between two tasks. We just don’t notice it because it happens so darn fast.
You could argue that it doesn’t matter as long as you get your work done. But that is exactly where multitasking or the perception of multitasking turns into a problem. Our brain only has a limited capacity for processing data. The more complex a task, the more data needs to get processed, the more difficult it is for the brain to switch, the more time it takes.
If you imagine your brain as a multi-laned highway, all lanes are occupied with data that is needed to tackle the one task at hand, let’s say writing an email. If you add a second task, for example answering the phone, you split the data highway into two. Some lanes are occupied with data to write the email, but some lanes are now used to speak on the phone. Your attention is divided, your brain switches back and forth between the two tasks, and that has consequences.
The obvious result is that you may lose track of what the caller is saying because your brain was more engaged with the email. You may find that you made mistakes in your email because …. you get the idea.
Multitasking for most of us is only an illusion that impacts our performance, quality of work, and quite often also the quality of our lives. Instead of getting done more our brain is forced to switch back and forth between the two tasks, which essentially slows us down. An article of the American Psychological Association describes several experiments on task-switching. The goal was to determine the cost in time for switching tasks, and to assess how complexity or familiarity of tasks would impact the time of switching and productivity.
“Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks.”
What is even more important is the fact that […] “multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error” and it can cause mental blocks that […] “cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”
In short, the mind and brain are not designed for heavy-duty multitasking because it negatively impacts our mental processing ability.
Remember those moments when you were immersed in your work, the phone rang, you picked up and… the great idea that you just had disappeared? You may not even have started talking, but by switching from one task to another, you lost it. And starting where you left off usually takes some time. You need to connect the dots again in order to continue.
What could this mean for you and your work? If you have something simple to do like putting dishes into the dishwasher, loading your washing machine, and at the same time talking with a friend on the phone – keep on doing it. I don’t think it will either impact your conversation nor the outcome of the laundry or dishes. But if you are working on something complex like writing a blog, doing some research, or writing a proposal, you may want to reconsider. Focusing on one task and finishing it not only gets stuff off your To-Do-list, but it also gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
Especially if you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, take some time to plan. Write down what you have to do and then decide when you will do it. I know, it may sound more like additional work instead of helping you to get stuff off of your To-Do-list. But the benefit of this exercise is that you can use quiet and undisturbed time for the really heavy-lifting and do the easy stuff when you have to expect or deal with distractions.
Give it a try. For the next couple of days focus on one task at a time. Pick a time that will allow you to concentrate 100 percent on it. How does it make you feel? Did you get the task done quicker? Did you enjoy this uninterrupted focus time? How did it feel getting it completely done? Something like this?
I can’t wait to hear from you. Until next time, Regine
Last year I wrote a blog about working from home. I described a couple of situations that may arise testing your productivity and ultimately your success. Since then I dug a bit deeper, did some research, and had more conversations with people who have first-hand experience on the work-from-home front. I learned about their set up, their tools, what kind of problems they deal with, how they avoid distractions, how they stay motivated, and what they learned along the way to stay productive and, yes, happy as well.
Since there is quite a lot to cover, I decided to split this topic into two parts. Part 1 will focus on:
The importance of your workspace and work environment
How to combat loneliness while working from home
What tools and/or technologies support you
And part 2 will focus on:
Knowing your goals and planning your days
Taking breaks is important but easily forgotten
Building your own good work habits
Of course, it very much depends on your personality and your type of work, what problems or challenges you may face. So, let’s have a look and talk about ways to deal with them. The following suggestions may not be the (ideal) solution for you, but I hope they’ll inspire you to try and test them, experiment with your own ideas so that you’ll find out what works best for you.
1. The importance of your workspace and work environment
For some it is a no-brainer, for others it may be a revelation, that your workspace and work environment should support you, inspire you, and make you want to spend time there. It should be designed for the work you want and/or need to do and be free of interruptions and distractions. It should allow you to concentrate, be free of distractions and have undisturbed video conferences, phone calls, or whatever you need to do on a regular basis. Everything should be right at hand so that you can focus on your work instead of tools, technology, materials etc.
You don’t want to go chasing for a quiet space or a stable internet connection shortly before an important video call. This would be stressful and may have a negative impact on the conversation you’re going to have.
2. How to combat loneliness while working from home
As much as you may love not having to commute, at times you may feel very lonely working from home. There is nobody to chat with, go to lunch with, bounce an idea off, have a cup of coffee with when you are stuck, or ask about a movie or a game.
The typical recommendation to this problem is a coworking space. Yep, that may be one solution if you find the right coworking space. Right in terms of location, right in terms of people, and right in terms of how much it cost. But there are other options.
Another very common suggestion is the café. However, this comes with a caveat. Usually cafés are noisy places with lots of distractions. If you can’t block out the noise and distraction you won’t be very productive (noise-cancelling headphones come to mind). You also may fight over the few power outlets or feel guilty because you sit there for several hours and only consume a café latte. In short, you trade one evil for another. If you happen to know a nice, quiet café ignore what I have just said.
Moving to the next option. One article I read suggested to start a Meet-up group and arrange coworking days once or twice a week at a convenient location. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like an idea worth pursuing. The issue here could be finding a suitable location especially if we are talking about a group.
This brought the idea to my mind that you could ask other home workers if they would like to “co-work” once or twice a week. Two or three people are much easier to accommodate in a café. If you have found the right people for your co-working day(s) you may even invite them to your home if you have enough room.
Have you considered checking out your local library? It’s a quiet place, distractions are at a minimum, and libraries have desks or tables to work at. Could that be an alternative to working at home?
If you have any other ideas, please share them so that other “home workers” can benefit from them.
3. What tools and/or technologies support you
Tools and/or technology are also a big part of supporting you when working from home and connecting with the world. It is no secret that there are a myriad of tools, apps, and programs out there with the intention of making your life and work easier, faster and more productive. And that is why a word of caution may be in order. Don’t fall into the trap of having to try each and every one. Before you make a decision, if that decision is up to you, take some time to gain a clear picture of what kind of tool is really useful for your particular situation. Don’t be afraid to ask others about their experience and why they chose one app, program or tool over another. If you have narrowed down the options, do your own research, look at You Tube demos and check out trial versions if available. Then, make your decision. It may take a bit of time to find the perfect solution, but it will pay off in the long term.
As a simple example, some people love an electronic calendar that synchronizes with their phone, others still prefer a paper version. If you have a choice, pick the one that you feel most comfortable with and that’s easy to use. Just because something looks nice, is new and fancy doesn’t mean it’s meant for you. I’ll come back to the calendar in part 2 of my blog. It’s a simple but also important tool when it comes to your planning.
After this short detour, let’s get a little more specific. I do believe it’s a no-brainer to have a reliable phone and computer. Remember, it’s your work that’s on the computer and you don’t want to lose any of it just because it dies at a critical moment.
A stable internet connection is also mandatory, especially if you make video calls.
Since we are talking about video communication… It’s one of the most recommended services and tools for “home workers”. I don’t know anyone who is working from home who doesn’t use a video communication tooI/service. It doesn’t replace face-to-face meetings, but it certainly makes working together much easier. You can have team meetings, client meetings, share your screen, record conversations, give presentations, or simply reach out and have a chat with someone to keep in touch with. Especially if you’re working in a team that’s scattered all over the country video communication is always mentioned as being a vital tool. Team members feel more connected and build stronger relationships which usually translate into better cooperation and work results. I couldn’t agree more.
There are a couple of video communication tools/services that I used over the years. I’m now mostly working with Zoom because it is well known, has a calendar add-in for scheduling purposes, has a recording option, is easy to use, and it works. Other tools/services are Skype, WhatsApp, JoinMe, Telegram, Duo, Facetime, to mention just a few. Depending on your needs, pick the one that works for you.
How do you keep track of your action items and projects? Do you know when you should reach out to a client or customer and follow up on a proposal? Are you part of a team that needs to stay informed and on the same page or are you a solopreneur and keep all threads in your own hands? Like with video communication there are many tools to choose from. Some are more designed for one-person use and others are designed for teams.
Most of the time I keep control over my action items and use a simple task manager such as Microsoft To Do, Wunderlist, Things, Todoist. They are intuitive and simple to use, exactly what I like about them. I have them on my phone and on my desktop, which allows me to add action items whenever I need to. No lost notes anymore, everything is in one place and always accessible.
If you prefer a paper version you could use the Bullet Journal method, Filofax, or any of the systems available in office supply stores or online. The market for analog productivity tools has exploded over the last couple of years and offers a huge variety. Every single one claims it will help you get better organized and keep track of your work and tasks. It sounds a little bit like a miracle cure. Keep in mind that it’s still up to you to use it and make it work aka keep it easy and simple.
If you are part of a team determine what exactly you would like a cooperation management tool or project management tool to do for you and your team. This is not my strong suit and I only know a few such as Trello, Asana, Basecamp and ZOHO. But if I had to decide which one to use, I would ask around, watch online demos, and test-run the ones that fulfil my requirements and are easy to use.
I know I said it many times, but ease of use is always the highest priority for me. I want all the tools, programs and apps I use to support me and make my life easier – not the contrary.
If you have found a system, tool or app that works for you, keep it. There is truth in saying never change a running system. Except if you absolutely have to.
Having said that, change is the most reliable constant in life. Your work or work environment may change. That’s a great moment to check in with your habits (more about habits in part 2 as well), tools and systems. Do they still serve you or is it time to have a closer look and make some changes?
That’s it for today. If you have any wisdom to share, please do so. I’ll continue with part 2 of “Make Working from Home Work for You” in two weeks. Until then,
For many the idea of working from home sounds like bliss.
You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, put on a sweater and jeans (or
stay in you PJs), grab a cup of coffee and bang, ready for work. No makeup or
shaving, no dressing up, no stressful morning commute.
Before you say a wholehearted “hell yes, that’s for me! I’d
love to work from home,” hold on for a sec. Have you ever given it some thought
what the “perfect” work environment is for you? As tempting as it may appear,
working from home has its challenges as well, and it very much depends on your
personality and/or work situation if this dream is a dream come true or turns
into a nightmare.
Join me on a little imaginary tour and have a look at some of the most common situations I’ve encountered or heard of to find out more and help you make the right decision.
The Detour Morning
You’re ready to start your day. You have your coffee and go
straight to your computer and start planning your day… and out of the blue you
realize you have to wash your gym clothes because you want to go to the gym
later that day. You quickly get up, put your gym clothes in the washing
machine, and while you’re at it, you also sort the rest of your laundry. It
will be so much quicker to put it in the washing machine later, and it’ll only
take a minute or two.
You go back to work. Oh, where were you? Ahhh right,
planning what you need to do today. You finish your list and are ready to get
to work when you see today’s date. It’s Feb. 20th and your Mom’s
birthday is coming up. Oh no! You wanted to get her that book she mentioned a
couple of times. No big deal. You quickly go online and order the book. But
stop, wasn’t there this book your friend mentioned the other day that you
absolutely must read? What was the title? Something like…. You’re sure it won’t
be difficult to find it, and off you go searching for it on Amazon. While
searching you come across some very interesting titles. You quickly read their
summaries and add them to your wish list.
Back to work. Darn, what was it that you wanted to do? It
takes you a couple of seconds but finally you remember that you wanted to
finish the copy for the newsletter and find some images for it.
By the time you start your day it’s not 7:00 am or 8:00 am,
it’s already 10:00 am, maybe even later, and you may have wasted some of your
most productive and creative time. Please don’t get hung up on the specific time.
It could be any time of the day that is your best and most productive and
creative time. It’s about getting distracted and taking a lot of detours before
doing the work. It could be procrastination (more about that in a future post)
or just plain lack of discipline.
I know, discipline is not a sexy word, but without it making
progress will take much, much longer. Do you have what it takes to stay
focused, even when the laundry or your conscience calls because you almost
forgot your Mom’s birthday? A good policy I found is to plan for these
interruptions. Set yourself a “focus time” for 45 minutes, an hour or an hour
and a half. Whatever works best for you, and do the work. If a thought or idea
comes up, have a piece of paper and a pen ready to jot it down and return to
your work immediately for the remainder of your focus time. Then take a break.
Wash your gym clothes, get that gift … and keep an eye on the time. You’ll be
surprised how quickly ten minutes pass, especially on social media.
The Run-an-Errand Scenario:
Your spouse is at the office and sends you a text. She just
remembered that she forgot to go grocery shopping. Unfortunately, she has to
stay late and can’t possibly do it. Since you’re working from home, it surely
isn’t a big deal for you to quickly run to the grocery store and get a few
items for dinner.
Working from home does allow for a lot of freedom and
flexibility, and running an errand may not be a big deal. Just make sure that
your partner or spouse, or anybody else for that matter, don’t take it for
granted or expect that you’re always available when they need you. You
have to set boundaries and stay in control of your day. Remember, your work is
equally important, and you may have to say no. You call the shots!
The Little-kids Scenario:
I found this to be the most challenging one. And as you can read, it’s based on my own experience. I have a room that is my dedicated office. Yes, I feel very fortunate and consider this an advantage. But – and I don’t write this lightly – I also have a son. Kids, no matter what age, don’t necessarily differentiate between you “being at home” and “working from home.” If something important happens in their lives, they want your attention, and they want it now. When they’re little they may need a hug, or someone to console them. When they’re older they may need to talk something over, help with their homework, or just tell you about the injustice at school, you name it.
There is no one-solution-fits-all to this type of
interruption. At least I haven’t found it yet. It depends on your kids, their
age and your type of work. With little kids I believe you have to take the
time. If you try to rush them, you just prolong the situation. They instantly
feel that you are not available to them, and that makes it even harder to
console them. With older kids you can set rules. We only had a few, but these
were non-negotiable. For example, when I was on the phone, no interruptions
were permitted, except for emergencies. That worked pretty well. You could use
a do-not-disturb sign or close the door. In that case, they’re not allowed to
enter and/or disturb you. Plan your most difficult and important work when your
kids are not around and reserve less intense work for times that may not be
uninterrupted, and I’m not just talking about kids.
Let’s take a break here. There are a million other things
that I could have mentioned: checking social media, getting something to eat,
making a quick phone call… you name it.
The point I’m trying to make is, do you have the discipline
not to fall for “quick” interruptions and detours? Can you resist the “call of
your spouse” to go shopping? Can you arrange your day around your kids so that
you can do the work you need to do? How about social media? It’s common
knowledge that we greatly underestimate the time we spend on Facebook,
Take some time and consider your situation, your
personality, and your work environment. What works best for you? What is your
ideal workplace? What gets your creative juices flowing? When do you focus
Tell me about how you dealt with some of the challenges
while working from home or what made you decide to go to the office instead.
Last year I blogged in depth about Urgent vs. Important work. I explained what urgent and what important means, why urgent occurs (at least most of the time), and how to deal with it in a better and more productive way.
Doing some online research, I happened to come across a blog written by Seth Godin with almost the same title. He also makes a case for Important vs. Urgent work in one of his February 2017 blogs, but he gave it a different spin. Here it goes:
“You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.
But instead, there’s a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so, you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.
Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it–those urgencies from a few years ago: who’s handling them now?
The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used [sic] to be, but we are now.
Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.
Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”
Which of the two is you? Take the time to find out and, I
paraphrase: “Now that you know (..), (…) dance with it.”
When presented with the choice to attend to something ‘urgent’ vs. something ‘important’ what do you do? I bet most of the time you will drop everything and take care of the urgent. It is a natural response. If something is urgent it has to be done right away, doesn’t it? And what does this have to do with your productivity?
Let’s have a closer look. What does urgent mean and what does important mean?
Urgent by nature is something that pops up unexpectedly. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular day or time (assuming you plan your days 😉).
In many cases, dare I say most cases, it is something we forgot to do or take care of earlier on. Or we just didn’t feel like doing it when there still was time and now… it is urgent because we are running out of time (also known as procrastination). Or we never took the time to plan a project with its many steps and possible hurdles. Many of these ‘urgent scenarios’ are the consequences of poor planning and/or procrastination; sometimes our own, sometimes someone else’s. Most could have been prevented with a little effort, either our own or someone else’s.
Of course, (really) urgent stuff or (really) urgent situations exist. Despite our best efforts, we cannot foresee everything and cannot plan for everything. Unexpected things can and will happen: you may be called to a family emergency, you may have a crucial member of your team call in sick… you get the picture.
The difference between the two: the first ones were preventable, the second ones weren’t.
Important on the other hand is a deliberate action that moves you, your business, your relationship, or anything else for that matter to the next level. It leads to progress in an area you decided to work on and devote your attention to. It may be working on a project, it may be preparing a product launch, it may be doing something for your family. No matter which area of your life or business we are looking at, it implies taking the next step.
I don’t mean to imply that paying your bills or getting your car serviced isn’t important in terms of preventing you from adverse effects or harm. I consider paying your bills or arranging for a car service or scheduling a doctor’s appointment ‘mundane work’. It can easily be scheduled at a time that is convenient and, most importantly, does not interfere with your important work.
Do you see the difference between urgent and important? I believe it is obvious why telling one from the other is crucial. Far too often are we dragged into doing ‘urgent’ stuff that, truth be told, isn’t really our concern or at least shouldn’t be our concern. But how do you prevent yourself from jumping up when someone uses the word ‘urgent’ for a request?
Know and be clear about what is important to you. What kind of urgent is really ‘your’ urgent that you have or will attend to? What is aligned with your business, your life or whatever the circumstances. If you know, you have a choice. You decide whether or not to rush to the rescue.
So again, what does this have to do with productivity?
Very simple, rushing to the rescue takes time and energy, your time and your energy. It disrupts your day and quite possibly creates the next ‘urgent’, and the next, and the next. Urgent takes away the time you need for your own business, your family, your friends, yourself. Instead of focusing on your ‘important’, you allow circumstance to dictate where your time goes and that does have an impact on what you get done and what you will achieve.
Do you know what is important to you?
If you need help to figure it out, call me or shoot me an email.
Until next time.