We’re solidly into Summer here in the Northern Hemisphere and with summer comes vacations, BBQs, and a general feeling of not wanting to be stuck inside behind a computer. But, just because it’s summer and you want to do fun stuff doesn’t mean you have more time or less work to do. So whadya do?
Option 1: Do the fun stuff but stress out the entire time, making you and everyone around you miserable, then work crazy long hours on other days to make up for it. (Please don’t.)
Option 2: Don’t do the fun stuff, have FOMO while looking at social media on your bathroom breaks, and get a vitamin D deficiency. (Nope.)
Option 3: Be efficient and effective so you spend less time working and more time doing fun stuff. (Yep!)
I know, efficiency isn’t sexy or even very interesting but it’s hella important. If you want to have time to do the fun stuff and not stress out, you’ve gotta get your work priorities crossed off your to-do list in less time. You have to be efficient (get more done) and effective (get the right stuff done) at the same time.
The key is knowing what you have to get done each day and focusing on that first. Note I didn’t say the key is knowing what you want to get done each day. After you get your priority tasks done, you can always do more but if you don’t get your priority tasks done, you can’t get your time back.
Think of priorities like salt. You can always add more but if you start out with too much, you’re screwed.
At the start of every workday—before you even open your email—make a short, reasonable list of what you absolutely must do that day. This list is your guide for the day so you don’t get distracted by the myriad things that are thrown at you as the day progresses.
Having a priority list will focus you and reduce your stress by showing you that, while there is always a lot you could do, there are only a few things that are actually important at any given time.
As new things pop up throughout the day you now have a list you can refer to and ask “is this new thing more important than anything on my list”? If it’s not, it can wait. Urgency does not equate to importance. If you spend your day reacting to what others deem urgent you will never finish what’s important.
Most people spend their days bouncing around from quick task to quick task, putting out fires, and answering emails. They’re busy but they aren’t getting the important things done. They’re always trying to find extra time to spend on their priorities instead of leading with them.
If you don’t make time for your priorities, the time will never magically appear. You’ll just end up working longer and longer hours chasing the idea of having “enough” time.
Sticking to a priority list requires that you have strong and healthy boundaries with yourself and everyone around you. You’ll have to get comfortable saying no and having conversations about what’s important (to you, your team, your boss, your company, your family, literally everyone) so you know you’re always heading in the right direction. It not easy but it’s worth it.