Sometimes small, mundane “check-the-box” tasks have to get done. For most people, it’s a problem if they never respond to email or fill out administrative reports (unsubmitted expenses, anyone?). However if you spend all your time on the small stuff, you’ll get by but not ahead.
Here are several reasons you’re not getting anything important done at work — even when you have the time — and what to do about them:
No idea where to start
When you arrive at work, if you take a glance at your calendar, open your email and then just start bouncing through the day like a Ping-Pong ball hoping that you’ll land in the right place at the right time, you’re not alone. Many people take this sort of reactive approach to their work. When you aren’t aware of your priorities nor are you clear on when they need to get done, it’s incredibly hard to justify not taking care of the small stuff all the time.
To overcome this reactive tendency, I recommend that you review your projects and tasks lists on at least a weekly basis so that you can know what’s most important now. Then, if possible, slot in time to get the key items done on your calendar. Schultz also recommends writing your goals at the top of your to-do list and asking yourself, “Is this task aligned with what I want to accomplish and who I want to be?”
One reason that you jump on little items immediately is because you fear you’ll forget to do them if they aren’t done now. Most likely you blame this on having a bad memory, but in reality it doesn’t matter how good or bad your memory is if you have the right systems in place. When you have a powerful to-do list, calendar system and email processing system, you know that you’ll get the right prompts at the right times to move items forward. By developing the right structure, even if it’s as simple as a notepad where you write down and review all your current to-do items, you can relax and focus on the bigger items at hand.
Yes, there’s a time and place to help your colleagues. But in almost every position, there’s also a time and place to focus on getting the work done that you need to do for yourself. Problems arise when external requests come at a faster rate or quantity than you can handle and you start to squeeze out the other work that you need to complete. This can lead to some people — especially people pleasers — feeling guilty for taking time to do their own work before everyone else is taken care of. But the truth is that if you don’t wrap up the projects only you can do, you’re not providing the most value for your company.
The key to overcoming this challenge is to pace the workflow. This means setting aside some time each week to drive your key projects forward, which then allows for work for others to fit into the remaining time slots available. This may mean that you don’t move ahead as quickly on other people’s projects, but in the larger picture, that’s typically OK if you’re moving ahead on the most important goals.
Shame at missed deadlines
When you haven’t done something for a long time that you know you should do, even thinking about the task can trigger shame. So instead of making a dent in that big project, you answer another email.
To overcome this cycle, it’s important to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and has items they struggle to complete. It’s also helpful to talk about what’s going on with someone you trust since shame thrives in isolation. When you notice yourself avoiding a project and going into numbing behaviors, such as randomly checking social media, try to stop and recognize the root cause of these behaviors. This could mean sitting quietly and taking some deep breaths, journaling, or going on a walk and talking with a friend. The counterintuitive truth is that when you focus on your emotions and process them, you have the opportunity to release them and they’ll, in turn, have less impact on your behavior than if you just try to avoid them.
High fives required
Getting affirmation for your work feels good for most people. Depending on your personality type, it can be almost essential for getting things done. If you’re one of those people, don’t fight that tendency — work with it. You can do so by using online tools where you can post your activities and have others comment on them, work with a coach, or set up a buddy system with a friend to make progress on your bigger goals.
If you are ready to really move forward in your career, stop letting the small stuff squelch your success.
(Source: 2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.)