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8 Deadly Traps that Cause Our Failures to Accomplish Everyday Work

8 Deadly Traps that Cause Our Failures to Accomplish Everyday Work
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Failing to accomplish work is a huge problem in the workplace today, just ask any project manager. The incomplete work often has consequences piling one task on top of another until what was once achievable now feels either impossible or difficult to do. To avoid this problem one must make a schedule and diligently complete what you have to do, before what you want to do. Here are some suggestions for those who want to get rid of the habit of procrastinating, and be productive. Setting priorities can be effective way to avoid procrastination. Here are 8 deadly traps that keep us from being productive.

1. Unclear Expectations

Creating clear expectations is the foundation of being successful. We have all heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time Bound). As you define, communicate and carry out the clear expectations you will want to add one practice that will distinguish you from the rest. Include the three elements of quantity, quality, and pace. Rather than saying, “finish the work as soon as possible” say, “finish these “x” items, as measured or approved by “y”, at a pace of “z” elements each hour/day/week” This approach coupled with SMART goals sets up you and your organization for success. Let’s face it, we feel a bit lazy at one time or another, it is part of whom we are as humans. This lazy characteristic can show up either when we want to get something trivial, or when we want something important done. Don’t let the lazy characteristic take control in the expectation phase of the activity, this will surely come back to bite you later!

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2. Failing to Schedule

Make yourself two lists, first of what to do and second of what not to do. This is the first step in planning and doing. This helps to get your priorities straight as well as to get the tasks done on time. Making a schedule also constantly reminds you of all the things you need to do and lists them for you to finish one-by-one. This approach lets you see the tasks in perspective and it even makes what you might have thought was hard to do seem trivial at times. This method works especially well if you get the harder tasks completed first, quickly cross them off your schedule after finishing them and continue to complete the easier tasks with some relaxation.

3. Allowing Distractions

This involves first identifying what is keeping you from doing your job productively and what it is that is making you slip into feeling lazy. Is it the television? Your phone? Your video games? Or perhaps even your comfy couch which is making the idea of slouching on it more tempting than getting your job done? Identify what is distracting you and give it a break. Perhaps even stay faraway from it. Accountability is important. If you can’t trust yourself to get it done, find someone to hold you accountable.

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4. Delayed Starts

Getting started is usually the hardest part. Sometimes the work is not hard, it is just thinking about it that makes it seem that way. Start with a few easy tasks, you will be surprised at where your laziness went by the time you get to the harder ones. This is because once you decide to get started, the decision is over and it goes only forward from there. To increase productivity, starting with identifying where and what to start is a must.

5. Not Prioritizing

Effective planning is the best way to avoid failing to complete your work. You must prepare a list of “to do” items when you are assigned a job. We have to complete the everyday tasks to avoid the pressure of completing the requirements at the end of the project or work. We must start by creating longer-term plans, say for the month, then for the week and finally for each day. This practice will keep our focus on the bigger picture and we will know that we are accomplishing something bigger than 30 days of individual tasks. You must know the value of your job. Your goal should always to be on time or before, make sure you have been sensible about your goals. Ensure that you plan to your capacity with the resources your have access to (time, money, people, knowledge, etc.). You must know the amount of work you can do each day. Most of us overcommit and under deliver, if you can master overcoming the 8 deadly traps in this article you will reverse this trend. As mentioned before, accountability is an important principle to demonstrate what you can do.

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6. Procrastinating

Procrastination is the natural assassin of success. Keep the consequences of failing to get your work done in mind when you start the task or project, not as you approach the deadline. Maintaining this mind-set, and the image of success, is a good combination to fuel your motivation. The main reason we procrastinate is that we are swimming in a sea of distractions. With access to the world using a computer keystroke or a swipe of a phone screen we can be instantaneously transported into almost any alternative world, and expect that this trend will continue to add to our distractions.

7. Missing Deadlines

The first thing to recognize is that almost all deadlines are arbitrary. This does not me you can ignore deadlines but it does mean you can question them. However, the questioning needs to happen at the beginning of the project or activity, not as the deadline approaches, this just makes you look incompetent. Failing to complete our work often ties to the practice of delaying the most important tasks and performing the least important ones. This practice can cause serious problems for your success and for the organization. Each time we delay the projects of our internal or external clients, we provide another sliver of doubt in their mind for the next project. Getting clients and building trust takes a long time to develop but can be lost in just a moment. Delivering just a bit faster than needed or faster than your competition, is what will distinguish you and continue the contribution to trust building. Plan for delays, don’t react to them, this contingency planning is critical. Our human desires push us to postpone activities which do not entertain us, once again this is where accountability distinguishes the poor from the great performers. Fight the urge and stay accountable.

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8. Overlooking Effectiveness

You must be effective in addition to being efficient. Efficiency is all about faster, better, and cheaper. Effectiveness is all about putting the right plans in place so your don’t have to force yourself to work faster, better and cheaper. We can always put in extra-long hours, but it comes at a cost somewhere to you, your family or to your organization, Time is a finite commodity, the longer hours you are working, are hours in which you are not doing something else. Make sure the trade-offs you are making are conscious ones and not because of your ineffectiveness. Procrastinators always try to postpone their work as they think they have enough time on their calendar. This avoidance behavior places your potential success at risk. We all have to work smarter and not harder Effectiveness is the key to smarter work. Planning up-front allows us a more reasonable pace when we are in the throes of doing the work.

So when you start your day tomorrow, do everything you can to avoid the 8 deadly traps that will cause you to fail in completing your everyday work. Your organization will thank you for the accountability and for your work accomplishments.

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Featured photo credit: Penguins/ Marc Lombardi via marclombardi.zenfolio.com

More by this author

Dr. Kevin Gazzara

Senior partner at Magna Leadership Solutions

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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