We are all busy. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear the phrase, “I’m so busy,” from someone. It seems that there is never enough time to do everything we have to get done. As the days, weeks, and years go by, our to-do lists get longer, not shorter. Most of us are overwhelmed by the feeling that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: We will never catch up. We will never finish the to-do list. There will always be more we could, should, and would like to do. The requests and responsibilities keep piling up. Yet there is only so much time. We each get 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 365 days in a year, and only one lifetime. That’s it. Our time is limited.
What we do have control over is how we prioritize what we do with the time we have. The art of productivity is not so much about getting things done as it is about getting the right things done at the right time.
I believe the key to my own productivity is my ability to identify, work on, and complete the tasks that matter most. I determine the items that are most important and push myself, and our employees, to complete those tasks on time. I prioritize my work day and our organization’s workflow based on the things that matter most.
Our natural tendency is to avoid bigger tasks that take time and energy. Instead, we focus on little tasks – those that can be easily done and checked off our list for a quick dose of satisfaction. Of course getting things done feels good, but in the larger scheme of things, these little tasks are rarely what drive personal or organizational success. Nor do they often bring a lasting sense of satisfaction.
Productivity that matters requires us to finish those big tasks. When we are disciplined to work daily, weekly, and monthly on what is important, those tasks eventually do get done. When we jump into tasks that really matter, and resist the temptation to focus on the easy things, we begin to get somewhere – we are now being productive.
One of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield, is keenly aware of the importance of choosing what to do. He notes:
Choosing to do what is important means saying “no” to the things that seem urgent – at least for now. As difficult as it can sometimes be, I have had to learn to say “no” to certain tasks and requests on my time. I am constantly weighing new items against those that are already on my to-do list by asking myself, is this a high-value task or a low-value task? Is this merely an urgent task (answering a ringing phone) or an important one (finishing a key project)?
The next time you stare at your to-do list in the morning and feel overwhelmed, stop and recognize that there is always enough time to get something done. The ability to focus on the most important task, and then complete it, is the key to productivity.
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle (New York: Rugged Land, 2002), 65.
For additional insights, be sure to purchase my book, The Ordinary Leader.