As managers, getting caught up in daily chaos is par for the course. You spend the day constantly putting out fires and trying to tie up the seemingly endless lists of loose ends. Instead of feeling fulfilled and productive after the long day of hustling and hard work, you often wonder where the day went, what really got done, and how you’ll ever find the time and energy to focus on the longer-term projects that matter.
You know that being constantly side-tracked keeps you from getting ahead, but you’re so overwhelmed with everything on your current plate, you’re not sure where to start. That leaves you feeling depleted and defeated both at work and at home.
Here are a few tips to help you shift the needle.
Remember that not all activities are created equal.
As Al Pittampalli points out in this compelling Medium article, “We shouldn’t define productivity by how much we do.” It can feel great to check off a bunch of to do items at the end of the day, but we shouldn’t measure productivity on how much we get done. More important is to consider the overall return on our effort and focus on those projects and tasks that have a higher pay-off. High return items are those that move the organization toward its goals, which will also move you forward in your career, earn you visibility, and set you up for your next promotion.
Pittampalli recommends thinking of your to do list in two categories: Maintenance and Growth. Maintenance are those activities required by our current position. Growth are activities that move us forward toward our larger goals. Be sure you are focusing at least part of your day on growth.
- Your ongoing water bill doesn’t have the same swing as hiring an assistant; the latter is the one you should spend time on because it will have the greatest impact on your long-term GROWTH and return on investment.
- Creating a staffing plan for the new project may not feel as urgent as handling a request in your current role, but it’s important for GROWTH versus maintenance. If you want to move beyond the status quo, that’s the focus to get you there.
When you step back and examine each task from a value-add/ROI perspective, your focus becomes clearer.
Watch out for the allure of busy-work.
No matter how much we may want to move away from the day-to-day maintenance tasks into a focus on growth, the habit of “doing what appears in front of us” can be a challenging cycle to interrupt. Maintenance activities are often easier and more comfortable. They are familiar, known, less risky.
Growth activities require us to stretch into unknown territory, and often require more focused attention and problem-solving. We may not even know where to start — so we default to the inbox, tackling whatever shows up.
Here are a few ideas for shifting your focus.
- Recognize that you have a choice: Going from survival to intentionality gets easier in time with increased awareness and practice.
- Reframe your MAINTENANCE mindset: Carve out time to review your maintenance tasks. Where can you hand off, systemize, and get them handled in a way that frees you up for more of the growth stuff?
- Build the habit: In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Steven Covey suggests making a list each morning of your to do items and categorizing them into “important or not” and “urgent or not”. Set aside time each day for the “Important, but not Urgent” category. (These are the GROWTH items.)
- Prioritize the BIG PICTURE: Spend time each day thinking about the big picture. Focusing on where you want to go will guide your decisions. Keep that future goal or vision as present as possible. Be mindful that there will be a pull to default to the safe stuff. That’s why building the habit is so important.
- Reward yourself: Acknowledge the activities you performed that fall into that long-term, big picture category. Start a positive feedback loop where you recognize and reward that focus to encourage the habit.
Feeling overwhelmed by everything on your plate and ready to make a shift to more freedom and fulfillment in your work life? Get in touch and let’s look at what will move the needle for you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go ahead and schedule a time for us to talk here.
New Masterclass: Five Secrets to Landing Your Next Promotion
I’m excited to announce a new free online masterclass. This 45-minute video shows how my clients go from feeling overworked and overwhelmed to taking complete control of their careers, so that they earn the respect and recognition that makes them the obvious choice for promotions and pay raises.
Watch it here.