One of the most difficult things we have to overcome these days is the busy work trap. The work that really does not improve us, our careers or take us anywhere near achieving our goals. It is so easy to get stuck doing work that, although needs doing, is not important.
I know many people struggle with this, and the fight is an ongoing fight. Our bosses, colleagues, family and friends are all demanding our attention. And while they are not necessarily being selfish, their constant demands for our attention pulls us away from doing the things that are important to our long-term goals and continuous self-improvement.
To overcome this, I have developed a number of tricks that help me to maintain my focus on the things that are important to my life and my own self-development, and I would like to share these with you now.
The first trick I use, and perhaps the most effective one, is to make sure I have up to two tasks on my todo list every day that are related to my own personal self-improvement. This could be something as simple as exercise, or more involved such as develop my long-term life goals. These two tasks are non-negotiable, which means they must be completed before the day is finished. Writing this blog post, for example, is such a task. It is not related to my everyday work, and I do not really have to do it. But for me, writing about self-development and productivity is important so, every Monday I have a task that says: “Write this week’s blog post” and it is labelled “@TODAY’S OUTCOME” and is flagged with a red flag. This label means that it must be done before the day is completed.
It would be very easy to label all tasks I think are important with “today’s outcome”, but that would miss the point. By only having a maximum of two tasks I can label as an outcome for the day means there is a better than ninety percent chance they will be completed. If I had ten such tasks, then the chances of completing them in one day would be minimal. Us humans have a bad habit of thinking we can achieve far more than we can in a set amount of time, in this case, twenty-four hours.
The second trick I use is to complete a daily mini-review at the end of the day before I go to bed. This is a ten-minute review where I go through what I have scheduled on my calendar for tomorrow and the tasks that are on my todo list. By looking at both my calendar and my todo list I can see how busy my schedule is and what is on my todo list. This gives me a pretty good idea of what is going to be achievable. Once I know what tomorrow looks like, I then review my goals and see what tasks I can add into my Today’s Outcome. On the days that are very busy, I will only add one outcome and make sure that it is an easy task to accomplish. Other days, when things are a little quieter, I will schedule two bigger tasks.
Filter All Requests Through A Question
The third and final trick I use is to filter all requests through the question “how does this help me achieve my goals?” For those of you who are employed, this might seem like an impossible question to answer when you are receiving a request from your boss, but you can still filter your boss’s request through this question. Any request coming from your boss is going to have some effect on your future at the company. If the request is to make coffee for an important visitor to your company, then the choice you have is to either make a standard cup of coffee or make the best cup of coffee the visitor has ever had. Making the best cup of coffee you can make for the visitor, may actually get a compliment from the important visitor, which could, indirectly, result in your company achieving its goal. Other times, filtering a request from your boss will help you to prioritise what is important and what is less important.
Filtering requests through the question “how does this help me achieve my goals?” also helps you to decide whether you want to do something or not. It teaches you to be more aware of where you are spending your time and helps you to make better decisions for yourself.
When you combine these three methods together, you arrive at a very powerful way of maintaining your focus on the things that are important to you and it pulls you closer and closer to achieving your goals, both in the short-term and the long-term every day.
I know it is very hard to keep yourself out of the busy-work trap, but if you want to achieve your goals, and you want to feel you have done a fulfilling day’s work each day, these little tricks will certainly pull you forward to a happier and more successful life.
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Carl Pullein is a personal development and productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more successful, productive and creative.