Do the important work first

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It’s easy to spend your time processing email. The real challenge is to do the important work. Here’s how…

Did you do anything important today?  Note that I’m not asking whether you completed your “to do” list. Nor am I asking how many meetings you attended.  Nor am I asking how much you wrote. I’m simply asking whether you did anything important?

A variation of this question is what you should be asking yourself each morning: what will I do that’s important today? Plan to do at least one important task every day.  How will you know it’s important?  Easy! Accomplishing this task will:

  • make you feel deeply satisfied
  • teach you about some essential aspect of your job or profession
  • help you meet some of your own, or your company’s, long-term goals

It’s all too easy for us to spend our time doing “busywork” —  email, phone calls, and other largely inconsequential tasks. It’s surprisingly challenging to squeeze the really important work into our schedules.  Here are some tips that will help you do that:

  1. Do your most important work first. Our daily allotment of willpower is reset each night, after sleeping. As a result, we all have the most willpower we will ever have first thing in the morning. If completing your most important work requires willpower —  as it likely does — it makes most sense to tackle the job when you have the most willpower available. Also, practically speaking, if you do your important work before you do anything else you’re less likely to be tired and distracted.
  2. Don’t tackle too many important jobs at the same time. If I can accomplish one important task a day, I’m thrilled. Far better to have modest goals and achieve them than to have ambitious ones that never surface. Most people make the mistake of trying to cram too much stuff into one day. One important task is enough; never try for more than three. It’s unrealistic.
  3. Keep your most important job top of mind.  I have a printed “to do” list sitting to the right-hand side of my computer keyboard at all times. On it, I mark my most important task with a bright pink highlighter so I can’t possibly miss it.

Adopt these three steps and the next time someone asks you, “did you do anything important today?”, you’ll be able to answer yes.

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