How do you react when you’re behind at work, or at home? So often, when this happens, it feels like the answer is to do more. Roll your sleeves up, work harder, and push through it. Stay up late, and get up early. This can be an effective strategy if you’re doing something mindless, such as unpacking boxes after a move. But, if you’re doing work that requires thought and concentration, doing more may not actually work. In fact, it could have the opposite effect.
Over-working yourself will wear you out. It will zap your creativity and your mental energy. Your work will take longer, and it is more likely that you’ll make mistakes. Pushing yourself too much is one of the behaviors that can ultimately lead to burnout. And, burnout can take quite a lot of time and energy to recover from.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we all begin checking out. It’s also not an effective strategy to do nothing.
But, when you’re tight on time, or your to do list seems to be way too long, take the time to reprioritize. Rather than try to accomplish everything, decide which of your long list of things is the most important. A great exercise is to try cutting your to do list in half. If you could only accomplish half of the things on your list, which tasks would you begin with? Which tasks must be completed now versus later? Which tasks are quick, and which are long?
Focusing in on fewer things allows us to do those things better. It allows us to clear our minds of the worry of having to complete too many tasks. For the items you do complete, you’ll have the time to do the best possible job on each task. Of the tasks you focus on, you’ll actually complete them. And, you’ll do a better job.
If you’re squeezed at work, you’ll probably find this advice is the opposite of the way many leaders think of getting things done. So often, prioritizing what is important seems like an impossible task. In fact, everything is important. How can we possibly pick specific tasks over others?
But again, trying to accomplish too much is not a good long term strategy. It can work once in a while, but not normally. There’s a saying that if everything is important, nothing is important. And, this is true. When you try to do too much, you may find yourself completing very little of your list.
Both at work and at home, make your goal to do fewer things better. You’ll find that this strategy will improve your mood. You will ultimately accomplish more. And, your quality of work will improve overall. At work, this strategy will force you to have tough conversations about which projects take priority. But over time, the process of reprioritizing your work will become easier. And, you’ll get more done.