In order to achieve the big, important goals you've set, you'll have to let go of some other activities. Learn about how to triage your responsibilities and learn to be okay with ignoring or delaying some minor tasks.
- So I have a confession to make. The week I was preparing the materials for this course and a few others I'm doing, I ignored my emails. I usually like to keep my inbox at maybe 25 to 50 messages, something that feels manageable, but that week, I let it balloon to 225 messages that I hadn't responded to. Did that cause me stress? A little. If something was truly urgent, I wrote back right away, but mostly, I let the messages sit. Did my delayed response time inconvenience or annoy other people? Probably.
I'd love it if I could suggest a magic bullet formula to accomplish everything you need to. Plus, everything everyone else needed from you at the same time. But you probably already know that formula doesn't exist. Instead, the way to make real progress that will help your career and leave you feeling more accomplished at the end of the day is learning to ignore, at least temporarily, what's not important. That can be incredibly hard, because people, let's face it, are a little self-focused, and they want you to attend to their needs quickly.
So holding firm and protecting your time to emphasize what's most important sometimes makes you the bad guy, but it's worth it in the end. Here's how to pull it off without alienating everyone in your life. First, determine who or what it's okay to triage. There are some things that, if you know what's good for you, you always want to keep at the top of your priority list. That probably includes requests from your boss, key clients, your family, your very close friends, and maybe a few others.
You can even draw up a list. You also want to assess the urgency of every request. If your spouse emails you because he or she can't remember the name of a book you recommended, you can probably wait on that. But if your boss has a conference call in an hour and needs a status update on a key project, drop whatever you're doing and make that happen. Next, you can consider batching less important tasks. You might have a backload where you need to respond to a pile of emails, make some follow-up calls, and run a few reports. None of them on their own are that essential, but taken together, if they build up, they're probably stressing you out.
So set aside a period of time, ideally a time when you're less productive anyway like late in the afternoon after a long day of work, and make a dent on them. They don't require a lot of brainpower or creativity, but they do need to get done. It's also worth it to attack time management issues at the root. In the corporate world, meetings take a disproportionate amount of time. In fact, one study revealed the average employee has about three meetings per day. If you can eliminate just one of these, you can buy yourself nearly half a work week every month.
So talk to your boss first about where it's okay to push back. As long as you get his or her buy-in, you can start to be more discerning about which invitations you accept. Ask what the agenda's going to cover and whether you really need to be there. If you can escape, you can make serious progress on other things that are far more likely to get you noticed. As author Cal Newport points out, deep work, meaningful progress on meaningful projects, is what gets you noticed in the corporate world. It's what gets you promoted and turbo charges your career.
Meanwhile, "shallow work," like responding to emails, is simply what keeps you from getting fired. You don't want to waste a lot of time on this, because you're never going to make it to VP or SVP because you're great at answering emails. Be smart about where you can cut corners, but always try to shave off the shallow work so you can get a little further into the deep end.
- Setting your goals
- How many goals should you have?
- The difference between a goal and a to-do list
- Building systems to help you succeed
- Making success a way of life
- Learning to ignore the unimportant
- Rewarding yourself for success