Tim Herrera of the New York Times frequently writes about work productivity, and has focused on a behavior many engage in called urgency effect. He explains that our brain feels more satisfied with immediate success over long-term rewards, so we tend to prioritize quickly completed tasks over important, long-term initiatives. Therefore, we prioritize what makes us feel good, but accomplish little.
Reading about urgency effect made me think of a boss I had early in my career. He ran a large and very profitable organization, but took an hour each day to sort and deliver mail to every employee in the company. I asked him why he didn't hire a mail clerk; he explained that he wanted to keep his finger on the pulse of the organization by watching everything that came into or leaving the office. I was impressed.
After working for him for several years, I realized that his explanation was a lie to both me, and to himself. The hour per day that he spent sorting mail was time he didn't have to make hard decisions, deal with difficult conflicts, or deliver unwelcome news. He knew he would be successful in this task every day, and completing it made him feel he had accomplished something.
We all do this; gravitate to the things that we are good at, or which can be completed quickly, and which make us feel satisfied. Unfortunately we are de-prioritizing our success, pushing out the important things that will ultimately help us the most.
What techniques can help you to fight against this instinct?
1- Be Aware of Your Behavior- Build a list of your job responsibilities in order of importance to your success, and compare that to the tasks that you engage in. Try to identify the things that you avoid doing but which are important, so you can get them on your schedule where they can help you.
2- Set Specific Objectives- beyond a high level list of goals for the year, include intermediate tasks and milestones and use them to get long term project on your monthly or quarterly calendar. Pay attention to important goals that you miss each month, and rework your calendar if you find it is full of reactive, non-strategic tasks.
3- Schedule Wisely- Block out time as you schedule each week to make time for important tasks. Be realistic about how much time you can and will spend on these tasks and leave enough time for emergencies that crop up.
4- Create a Work Environment Best for the Task- the office may be best for meetings and direct communications with others, but uninterrupted quiet time for independent strategic work sometimes requires a change of venue. Consider scheduling time out of the office where there are fewer distractions to improve your productivity and focus on longer term, strategic efforts.
The hardest person to manage can be yourself. Use process and planning to fight these bad behaviors, and focus yourself on the ones that will further your success.
David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org