Getting (some) things done

I have an admission to make. I left work yesterday without having finished all the tasks I wanted to. The reason I can say for certain that this happened is because I actually do this every day. In fact, having coached dozens of executives, discussed this with hundreds of managers I have trained – including many super high achievers, I don’t think any of them ever finish everything before they leave the office.

But sometimes you think you have done everything perhaps when you go on holiday. I would argue this is usually that you have set yourself things to do before going on holiday – a sensible strategy of ourselves – but this does not mean you have completely finished absolutely everything. But surely super effective people who are promoted manage to finish every thing by working late, weekends or getting up extremely early? Actually no. The reason being there are so many demands on us, so many things to do, so many possibilities to follow, so many requests or orders to follow, we cannot possibly do everything. The amount of things to do expands infinitely and is possibly even increases when we are good at our job because colleagues and customers look to us to make things happen.

So here’s a radical idea; if you have genuinely finished everything every day, I would suggest that you are in trouble. Why?

I can only assume that if you thing you have finished everything, you should perhaps be doing more than you realise. Or maybe you aren’t being trusted. Or perhaps your job isn’t important. The long term result is the same in all cases – you aren’t going to have that job for much longer.

So what’s the answer?

This is going to sound simple, banal, obvious – but believe me the answer is as simple as this:

Because you can’t do everything, you need to make sure that the stuff you do do is the important stuff.

So all you need to do is:

  1. know what the important stuff is
  2. do the important stuff first
  3. only do the unimportant stuff when the important stuff is done.

So, there you have it. I can almost sense the cynicism – a business school professor thinks that work is easy. But this isn’t just me – I have used this approach with many people I am coaching and it can have a transformational impact on their wellbeing. Knowing that the important things are done and that the pile to things undone can wait prevents a major source of worry.

So the trick is to really understand what is important, what it is YOU want to achieve and also account what the organisation wants you to do. The list that results from this thinking is your task list. Then don’t be distracted, out off course or bullied away from what you have decided. If you’ve done it right, you will be happy to leave your office with some things left undone. knowing that the important stuff for you and your employer has been done.

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