It’s just an ordinary day at the office. You drink your coffee, look at your mailbox and write down all the things you have to do today: A business report, replies to emails. You receive a few phone calls, have a chat with your boss and at the end of the day nothing you set out to do is done. You worry about the things that you still have to do and in the end you are so busy worrying that you don’t do anything.
In my management and teaching career I have attended many time management courses to make my work more efficient, more effective, less administrative and so on. They all say the same thing: Plan your work, prioritise and use all kinds of colour coding to mark your work. I agree to some extent that you should do all these things, and I love to use colours, it helps me remember things. I think in pictures and when I try to remember something I think of the colours I used, or the place I put it in.
The problem I have with these methods is the way they promise that you can do all the things that you put on your to-do list. They say that within no time you learn how you can tick everything off on your check-list, but the reality is very different. In real life we plan all these tasks to do in a day, but we don’t take in account all the unexpected things that might happen that could easily disrupt this; someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time could call, you’re on the phone with them for a while and before you know it you’re behind. Or you receive an email with something that has to be done right away. Poof, once again you’re behind schedule. And you know what happens, right? You will feel miserable, because your planning is all screwed up and you didn’t manage to do anything useful today. Not true. You have done a lot of things, only these weren’t the things that you focused your mind on.
Any employer knows that employees work more efficiently if the workload is just a little bit higher than someone can handle, because it keeps people motivated. If the workload was just right people wouldn’t be challenged to complete all their assigned tasks.
To prevent yourself from being miserable about not getting things done, here are a few things you can do. Remember, feel good about yourself and think about the things that you can do, instead of the things you won’t do.
Make a check-list
Put all the things you plan to do on a list. Even if they don’t have to be completed right now, get them out of your head and write them down, or type them, in one place.
Which one has the most priority. Do that task first. When you finished the task, choose another one. Do that too. You can leave the tasks that you have done on the list, or take them off, whichever you prefer. At the end of the day or any moment that you choose look at the list and think of all the things that you have done and feel good about it. This way you don’t think about the things that you still have to do, you are positive about the things you have done.
Choose the right work place for the job
When I have to do an important job and I have to finish it, I choose a place where I can get a lot of work done. Sometimes this means I have to leave the office and work in a different place.
If you work in an office you can perhaps use a meeting room to finish your work. A different environment gives new energy to complete the task. This could be as simple as changing from your own desk to a table in the canteen or even a different floor.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Admitting that you can’t do something right away does not mean you have failed in doing the task. Sometimes you just need someone to look at the task with a different perspective. Alternatively, asking your boss which job has the most priority can help you decide what to do first. It’s alright if a report is late if the person receiving the report knows it will be late, and why.
Take your time to choose the right task to do
Sometimes it’s better to do something else after you have finished a job. Take a cup of coffee, read the paper. Take a few minutes to clear your head. You won’t be very productive if you start the next job still thinking about the previous job.
Slowly you will notice that you get a lot more things done in a day and that you are more productive than you think. Think positively, and tackle one task at a time.