Tim Herrera of the New York Times writes about work productivity, often focusing 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. He said he did it to keep his finger on the pulse of the organization, watching everything that came into or left the office. I was impressed.
After working for him for five 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.
How do you fight against this instinct?
Take inventory- Make a list of all of your job responsibilities, and circle the ones that you hate doing. Be aware of important tasks that you are wired to avoid.
Set objectives beyond your top 5- expand your list of goals for the year to 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.
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.
Create a work environment for the task- it might make sense to be in the office if your task involves meeting and direct communications with others. If you need uninterrupted quiet time for independent work, scheduling time out of the office could improve your productivity sharply.
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