It’s easy to be busy without being productive. There are never-ending to-do lists, endless parades of meetings, and an inexhaustible supply of worries.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of productivity, on the other hand, is that when you’re done, you have earned a sense of satisfaction. You’ve achieved something. You might be tired, but you know that the time and energy were well spent.
Did you know you can have a productive day and still feel frustrated? If we’re not careful, we can shatter the tranquility we’re trying to achieve, leaving ourselves feeling hurried, frazzled, and helpless.
Trying to Fit In One More Thing
You have a meeting at 10:00. It’s currently 9:47. You figure it will take you five minutes to walk to the conference room. “Sweet!”, you think to yourself. “I’ve got time to get something done before I have to leave.”
And you scan your task list. All of those high-value tasks are going to take more than eight minutes, so there’s nothing you can finish in the now-seven minutes you have left. So you check email and send off a quick reply. And another. And another.
Now it’s 10:01 and you’re going to show up to the meeting breathlessly late.
Why not wrap things up and start heading over? You’ll have a leisurely, thoughtful stroll and arrive calm and ready to contribute. Showing up five minutes early to a meeting never hurt anybody.
Not Defining a Win Condition for the Day
What does a successful day look like?
In other words, what would you have to do today (or tomorrow) to go to be calm, relaxed, and satisfied with what you achieved?
We are chronically overbooked. Some of us fill our calendars like we have 30+ hours in a day. 41% of the tasks on our to-do list will never be done. So “I got everything done I needed to” isn’t a realistic requirement to call the day a success.
Have you thought about what actions and discussions are essential to your success?
Have you identified your priorities for the day?
Or are you just winging it?
Have a plan for the day. Your day may not go according to plan, but the process of planning helps you to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll get blown off course, but you’ll know how to set your sails in response.
Achieving your win(s) for the day feels great. Even if you don’t quite make it, you can still rest easy, knowing that you were working on the right things.
Saying Yes to the Wrong Things
Your calendar is packed. Your to-do list is growing faster than you can cross things off. And the most discouraging part?
None of it is the stuff you want to be doing!
Aristotle said that nature abhors a vacuum. The same goes for your time. If you haven’t scheduled the time to achieve your goals, there are plenty of people around you who are happy to put you to work on their goals.
Saying yes to other people’s priorities is a wonderful thing when your goals align—it’s how interdependence works. When they don’t align, you need to stand your ground and guard your time.
Plan early. Put your big rocks on the calendar first. Decide which blocks of time are reserved for working on your goals and which blocks are open to helping people with theirs. Don’t wait until other people have filled your schedule for you and try to fit what’s important to you into the cracks that are left.
All three pitfalls reflect a desire to do it all. Our ambition outstrips our ability. We dream big but we’re finite. We can do anything we want, but not everything we want.
Drawing the line is tough, but we have to draw it. We have to say no to a thousand things so we can focus on the few things that matter the most.