What did you get done today?
Before you answer, I want you to be completely honest with yourself, because I don’t care that you did your laundry, or responded to 10 emails, or did your grocery shopping for the week. What things did you really get done? The things that lead to the big wins in life. The things that help you get your dreams off the ground. The things that help your business double its revenues this year. How many of those things did you move the needle forward on today?
Our society has an unhealthy relationship with work, which can be distilled down to this erroneous belief: more work means I’m a top performer which equals eventual success.
People who are actually top performers, who get truly valuable work done every day, and are on their way to realizing life’s great wins: financial freedom, time with family, successful careers and businesses, are playing a totally different game than the workaholics. Both groups of people are doing superficially similar work, but one group is bound for success, while the other is bound to wallow in the status quo while wondering what they’re doing wrong.
Which group do you fall under?
Getting Things Done vs. Feeling Busy
How many times have you gotten to work in the morning, started checking and responding to emails, and all of a sudden four hours have gone by? You grab some lunch, and respond to the responses that have started trickling into your inbox from your previous volley. Your boss calls a couple of meetings which leave you mentally exhausted.
You return to your desk and mindlessly browse social media for a while. You knock off a few things on your to-do list. By now it’s 5 pm. You grab your stuff and brace for the commute home, not having accomplished anything of meaning or value and yet you’ve felt busy and stressed all day.
This is a chronic problem in our instant-communication and information overloaded society. But top performers don’t play those games. They’re completely honest with themselves and know that to move forward in critical areas, other mindless tasks need to take a backseat so they can focus on the important things that really need to get done.
Priorities vs. To-Do Lists
A typical workaholic is guilty of creating to-do lists with 50 pointless items that need to get done at some nebulous point in the future. To-do lists lead to playing whack-a-mole with tasks that may or may not matter, and they often make us equalize the relative importance of everything on the list.
To narrow down what’s truly important, top performers take the time to prioritize and triage critical tasks that are going to result in discontinuous, big jumps in their lives and careers.This allows them to focus their limited time and energy to accomplishing what’s actually important.
Big Wins vs. Pointless Minutiae
Attaching the same level of value to tasks in our lives makes us unable to tell what true measures of success look like, and hide the big wins from us. This is why workaholics expend the majority of their energy on pointless minutiae like putting out fires over email for hours at a time.
Then, when they realize they haven’t gotten any meaningful work done, they turn to ‘productivity hacks’ or the latest apps for a solution.
Top performers are able to cut through the noise of minutiae by clearly identifying strategic goals for themselves, their careers or businesses, and breaking down those goals into achievable mini-tasks by the week, by the day, and even by the hour. This lets them chip away at a problem consistently over the long term.
Grounded vs. Frazzled
The default state of mind for a workaholic is being constantly frazzled. Frazzled at an email inbox that’s permanently full. A forever growing to-do list. Mini taskings handed down by the boss. Errands. Appointments. Lunches. It never ends.
Top performers, on the other hand, are grounded and calm. They’re concerned only about things within their sphere of control and over which they can exert a level of influence. They know how to say “no” to pointless tasks that aren’t going to help with strategic goals.
If they’re not in a position to say no, they figure out a way to get it done efficiently, and then move on to more important matters.
Values vs. Validation
Since grade school, we’re taught to play it safe in whatever task we’re assigned. Color between the lines. Do the problems quickly without error. Then sit quietly in your chair and wait for the teacher to praise you.
This reliance on external validation and praise carries over into our professional lives and careers, and it hobbles us into doing pointless work for the sake of superficial validation from our boss or co-workers.
Top performers play it differently. They act from a place of deep values. Values about themselves, their work, and their place in the company or their business. They take bold risks because they’re confident that doing so will either result in big wins, or lessons to be learned from to make the next attempt better.
Playing it safe is not an option, because playing it safe is what the masses do by performing trivial busy-work.
If you’ve read this far and realize you fall into the workaholic category, re-assess your personal and professional goals. Write down a list for each, stating where you’d like to be five years from now. Next to each one, write down what you need to be doing every day to make that goal happen. Then, execute.
Taking the time to do that simple exercise will put you ahead of the vast majority of people who are simply spinning their wheels and putting out fires. Differentiate yourself and do the daily, hard work. Just make sure it’s the right work