The longer your working career goes on, usually the more responsibilities you gain. These could be promotions, managing teams, or taking on more projects and tasks. They’re positive changes, as it’s good to grow and encounter additional opportunities.
However, in time, you may come to realize that there’s a limit to the amount of responsibilities you can handle. You’ve become busier and busier, but you’ve ceased to achieve big things. You may be setting yourself daily, weekly and monthly targets, but when you look back at the end of each month on your tasks and goals, you see that progress has been poor – or even non existent.
The Productivity Trap
In most cases, as your career progresses, and you gain more responsibilities, there are more things that hinder your ability to work efficiently. Here are just a few:
- More people want to contact you because of your good work, knowledge and expertise.
- You receive tons of emails, invitations to meet, and connections on LinkedIn.
- You manage a team with members who constantly ask for your help or feedback.
Unless you’re superhuman, you’ll find that your own tasks are swamped by the above. And while it’s fair to say that the above tasks are valuable, they’re not the most meaningful or productive for you or your career.
Put another way, you’ve fallen into a productivity trap. This trap is called shallow work.
By being constantly occupied helping others and dealing with unimportant communications, you lose the time and energy to focus on the vital stuff. You may be helping to make your team or department run smoothly, but you’re not really moving the needle in your favor. For example, you’ve no time left to seek continual improvements, and no inspiration left for innovative thinking and big-goal achieving.
It might help you to think of it this way: 80% of your work is probably spent on low-value tasks, while just 20% is spent on high-value tasks. You sit in meetings half a day, and spend the bulk of the remaining time processing your expenses, answering emails, helping colleagues, etc.
If you want to get your career back on track, and start to achieve big things again, then you’ll need to time manage your work. Let’s see how it’s done.
How to Spend Your Work Time Wisely
The Pareto principle is a good way to start. It refers to the observation that often 20% of what we do produces 80% of our results. And conversely, 80% of what we do produces only 20% of our results.
In terms of your personal work, it’s likely that 80% of your efforts are focused on shallow work – which only gives you minimal results. However, the remaining 20% of your efforts (which you put into non-shallow work), is the part that produces the results that really matter.
What steps should you take to reverse this? There are two things you can start doing right now.
1. Minimize non-essential work activities
When I say minimize, I don’t mean cut off. Most tasks have value, but you need to make sure that you’re focusing on the high-value tasks as a priority.
To achieve this, you may want to consider ‘time blocking’. This is where you schedule time to do your own important tasks – without being interrupted. Imagine saying to your team: “I’m going to work in a private office for the next two hours so I complete a piece of urgent work.” By saying this, you’ve set the boundaries, and also given yourself time to commit to whatever important tasks or projects that are on your list.
Another suggestion for you, is to set a maximum limit per week (and even per day) for responding to peoples’ enquiries or announcements. This can stop others from reaching you too easily. For instance, if colleagues normally expect near-instant responses from you when they send you an email, start to loosen your response times. By doing this, you’ll demonstrate that you’re genuinely busy, and your colleagues may start to look elsewhere for answers – or even come up with answers of their own.
2. Delegate tasks and responsibilities
Are you doing work that people who report to you could do? It’s a common problem that many managers (especially new ones) experience. However, if you’re to achieve your goals, you must learn to delegate some of your tasks to members of your team.
To do this, first decide what you can delegate. If it’s not something that only you can do, consider delegating it to others. You should be the one who takes care of the big picture – but is not lost in the details.
How best to delegate? The most important thing is to set clear guidelines for people. Don’t allow any ambiguity in your instructions, and don’t assume others will understand everything you ask them to do.
Often, it makes sense to delegate responsibilities, rather than just one-off tasks. For example, instead of asking one of your team to prepare this month’s stats for a presentation, make them responsible for all the stats that your team needs. By doing this, they’re likely to become experts at sourcing and collating stats, and will enjoy the extra responsibility that has been given to them.
Of course, there will be times when people don’t meet your expectations. This might leave you thinking: “Why can’t they do what I asked?” or “Why can’t I make then understand what I want?” Be careful, as when you start asking these type of questions, your stress levels increase, and you’ll begin to think about taking back some of the tasks you hoped to delegate.
The answer to the above dilemma, is to regularly review the performance of people you’ve delegated tasks or responsibilities to. This will enable you to ensure that they understand what’s required of them, and if necessary, you’ll be able to provide added guidance if needed.
It’ll also be helpful to both parties, if you focus more on the overall skills needed to complete tasks, rather than going over every single step required to finish specific tasks. In other words, learn to let go. For instance, instead of going word-for-word through how to write a sales email, simply focus on the key elements, such as punchy headlines, concise sentences, and strong call-to-actions.
Reap Powerful Rewards by Making Time Your Friend
If your career has gone off the rails, then you’ll need to spend some time reassessing your priorities, and how you manage your workload.
Make sure that the important tasks are your priority, and let these occupy around 80% of your work time. Use the remaining 20% of your time to work on non-essential tasks. If this results in you having insufficient time to complete the non-essential tasks, then this is where delegation comes in.
Train competent members of your team to take on tasks and responsibilities that you no longer have time for. They’ll benefit from learning new things, and you’ll benefit by having time to focus on the important stuff.
There’s only so much time in a day, so make sure you’re using it wisely. Do this, and you’ll begin achieving more than you ever thought possible.
Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com
|||^||The Balance: Understanding Pareto’s Principle – The 80-20 Rule|
|||^||Entrepreneur: Time Blocking: a Productivity Power Tool|
|||^||Inc: 7 Strategies for Delegating Better and Getting More Done|