You went home again yesterday saying to yourself, “I just don’t feel like I accomplished anything of value today!” It’s a frustration echoed by countless individuals (including me) from time to time about the constant struggle to be productive. On the rare occasion we do make confident strides toward our goals, we attribute it to our stellar skills in time management. When we don’t have a productive day, however, we frequently blame it on external factors (i.e. the meeting ran long, too many emails to respond to, etc.)
But are those legitimate reasons… or just excuses? Don’t we have some of the same types of distractions or interruptions occurring almost every day? Why is it that some days they seem to have a more significant impact on our ability to get things done than others?
Here’s my list of what I see as more valid reasons why the things we say are important don’t actually get done more often:
WE DON’T… have realistic expectations. Most people make daily task lists that would require 3 days and no sleep to actually accomplish half of the items. In your planning time, assign an expected amount of time to accomplish a task, and then add another 10–20% of time to actually accomplish it.
WE DON’T… prioritize. Going into our day with everything being a priority creates an environment where we try to focus on too many things at once. It’s like that quote, If everything is a priority… nothing is a priority. When you can see you have a limited number of “A” priorities you can better see where to focus your time and energy. I typically work off the “rule of three.”
I ask myself, “If I could only accomplish three things at work today, what would be the most important in addressing my highest priorities?” They may not come first in my day chronologically, but they do come first in planning how my day will be scheduled.
WE DON’T… plan for interruptions. We often create an impossible schedule because we don’t allow for distractions or interruptions to occur. You know there will be a phone call ☎️ or number of e mails or unplanned conversations 💬 that will take up part of your day. For a week consider keeping a log of all these disruptions and how much time they take up on an average day. Plan for that loss of time in your schedule on a daily basis. That way, the amount of time you actually have for completion of planned tasks and activities will be more realistic (see my first point).
WE DON’T… create ways to be better focused. Many of the tasks you undertake are high mental exercises. Does the environment in which you work support your ability to focus-or deter you?
When you need to be focused, turn off any audible distractions like mobile devices. Remove physical distractions (i.e. other items in your work area you see that remind you of other work). Also consider removing yourself from the distractions. Find a place where you can work and not be distracted for a defined period of time.
WE DON’T… separate the important from the urgent. Ask yourself why a particular task is screaming for your attention. Is it really connected to completion of your highest priorities, or is its urgency being driven by poor planning, other’s priorities or your desire to procrastinate on other items? You may have to handle the urgent and unimportant this time, but look at ways to prevent them from surprising you so often in the future.
WE DON’T… schedule an intermission. Give yourself room to breathe. In your planning, recognize when a proactive break might be needed after using up a lot of mental energy. Plan it now, and you have a motivation to complete the task at hand. You can read more about the value of an intermission in my book, Juggling Elephants.
WE DON’T… think in terms of the “big picture.” We plan our work activities better than the other areas of our life. Even if we mentally think about activities for our personal lives, we rarely record them. As you plan your day or evening, reflect on what tasks or activities should be included to improve your relationships and your own personal well-being. Write them down just like a task at work.
And if these reasons aren’t enough, let’s add an eighth one: WE DON’T… give ourselves a “pat on the back” 👏🏽 when a task is completed well.
The most common frustration I hear when people talk about “having too much to do” is that they have no sense of accomplishment. It’s just rushing from one task to the next.
Is it any wonder we lack the mental and emotional energy to give our best efforts to the next item on our list?
When a task is completed at work, give yourself a moment to celebrate. After tackling that task at home that’s been bugging you for weeks, reward yourself. And when you have that quality time with someone, just enjoy the moment.
Consistent productivity is harder than ever to achieve in today’s workplace, but not impossible. Like all processes for improvement, it requires an honest look at the current environment and finding a sense of urgency to change behaviors. Wouldn’t it be nice to go home more often saying, “I really feel like I accomplished something today?”
How many of these reasons do you recognize in your workday?