When was the last time you ended a day of work only to realize you had not yet completed that one task you kept a mental reminder to do "later?" While most people do their best to work efficiently throughout the day, this focus on "completing the immediate" may sometimes get in the way of chipping away at the bigger things.
A successful workplace performance day...what is it? As relative as the term "successful" is, you more than likely have a reference point for what a "good day" means to you. In fact, if you'd like to have more of those kinds of days, start with your own reference point. Make a list of "ingredients" that go into your own good day.
For example, Jason has a note card with the prompt, "I am at my best when..." and he has made a list that includes: eating breakfast, completing a deliverable, and drinking water throughout the day as ways to be at his best (e-mail him today to receive the entire list).
Performing at your best, making things happen throughout your own workday, results from mastering three areas: your mental focus, your time, and your energy. While some of your colleagues move through the day responding and reacting to things happening around them, the best of the best will know and utilize strategies to effectively manage their most limited resources.
One way to increase your workplace performance effectiveness is to incorporate mental and physical focus training tools and strategies into your regular routines. On our blog, we publish short articles designed to get you further...in life, and at work. Articles regularly discuss these focus-training strategies.
Most people are familiar with the idea of making a daily to-do list. Upon further study, however, you may find you experience a distribution and lessening of focus when your lists get too long, ambiguous, and incomplete; it seems when people collect a "critical mass" of what they've said "yes" to, their stress increases and they feel imbalanced and overwhelmed.
In our Mastering Workplace Performance seminars, we discuss the lists and reminder systems professionals use to manage to-dos. Most likely you know people who have (any one or more of) the following systems: reminders written on cards or sticky notes; calendar reminders in digital planning systems; separate notes in their own journals or notebooks; and even saved voice mails or e-mails reminding them there is still something "to-do."
Over the next few days, consider this experiment: Find three places to write things down (pages in your journal/notebook, word processing or spreadsheet document, or manila folder), and separate the work you are responsible for by these criteria:
1. Work you have to THINK about. Write down, one item per line, anything that comes to your mind that: You don't know how to start, you don't yet have the resources to start, or you want to work on but is not yet represented on any of your lists or in any of your systems.
2. Work you are MANAGING over time. Write the projects, outcomes, and deliverables you are responsible for over the next two to 12 weeks (or more). Most of these will be the things you have re-written from list to list over the past few weeks (or even months). Anticipate you'll have somewhere between 20 to 60 of these...Most people do.
3. The work you need to DO sooner than later. Using the two inventories above (work to think about, work to manage), make a short-term to medium-term list of actions—the literal to-dos—you need to start on next. This list, if completed honestly and completely, will grow rapidly. Move beyond the instinct to stop adding to the list when you get "too many."
"Too many" is arbitrary and relative. You have as many as you have. And how many is that? Don't try and guess...Simply use the two inventories above—more than likely you'll have at least one to-do for each project and thing you're "thinking about."
Yes, it's possible to be productive, effective, and balanced. Realize this fact: You DO have too much to do. It's up to you to seek out, practice, and implement the strategies, tools, and processes to make things happen. Master your focus, your time, and your energy—these ARE your most limited resources.
Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA, and Jodi Womack, MA, help professionals up-level their organizational performance through maximizing time, energy, focus, and technology. To receive an "I'm at my best when..." Checklist, simply e-mail Jason and Jodi.