I recently traded in my trusty seat at the neighborhood coffeehouse for a proper desk at one of those coworking spaces. I’d forgotten how it feels to do focused work in an office. I’ve been getting so much done. Chances are it’s just a temporary boost, of course. Has less to do with the space itself, and more to do with change.
Turns out this phenomenon has a name: the Hawthorne effect. And I for one am getting everything I can out of it, for as long as it lasts. Need a quick fix for focus? Try sitting somewhere new!
For more lasting effects, you’ll need a different approach.
It’s essential for focus that we’re not trying to do too many things at once. And yet we continue to say “Yes!” to more than is good for us. The result? We get irritated at that event we didn’t even want to go to, get frustrated while doing tasks we weren’t hired for, and get exhausted by meetings with people that wipe you out.
This is your periodic reminder to pare down your list of tasks and responsibilities. Today.
Should you stop doing everything you don’t feel like doing? On the contrary. I’m all for taking on the things nobody else will touch. But if there’s something we need more of, it’s true focus and attention for the task at hand. We can’t concentrate if we’re worrying about all kinds of other things.
That means getting rid of some responsibilities. Whether you pare down your list out of self-preservation, or so you can produce higher quality work: Creating some space gives you breathing room, boosts creativity, and helps you do a better job at the things you do.
But odds are I don’t need to convince you of the benefits, so let’s get to my concrete suggestions:
Think short term
We often try to look beyond our hectic days to the long term. But try this for a change: think short term. What can you cancel or postpone in the coming week? A day, an afternoon, even an hour gained is still a win. Another tip: Ask a coworker to look on as you weigh what can go. That’s much easier for other people to see.
Pare down what’s on your plate
If people ask for help, then most of us are willing to say yes. Join the hiring board? Sure! Help plan the next company party? Why not. Be a mentor for new hires? Love to. All are great things to take part in, but the time they take adds up. And before you know it, temporary tasks have become a permanent part of your job.
If you’re at your limit, re-evaluate these kinds of commitments. Take a clear-eyed look at how much time they take and what you get out of them. Then strip away as many extras as possible. Sometimes being part of a hiring team or party committee can pull you through tough times. Other times it’s just too much work.
A good manager won’t have a problem with you passing these tasks on to someone else. After all, it’s not your core work.
Identify those jobs that sap your energy
If you had to write down the two or three projects that take the most out of you, what would they be? (And here’s a clue: They’re often not the ones that take the most time.)
Take a moment to reexamine just one of those energy-eaters. Could you bring someone else on board? Delegate the entire project? Is postponing an option? There’s often more possible than you think.
Nobody's going to do it for you
The harsh truth is this: nobody’s going to clear time in your schedule for you. That’s something you have to do yourself, and it’s not always easy.
But the impact on both the quality of your work and your quality of life is enormous. And that makes it all worth it.
Good luck and have a great week!
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