Why you shouldn’t wait for the right moment to act

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Yesterday, I had to force myself to shut my door, sit down at my desk, and finish a bunch of things that I don’t relish doing. They weren’t particularly hard tasks, or complicated. I just don’t like to do them.

Those are the things that tend to drift quietly to the bottom of my task list, especially when there are big projects I can more eagerly turn to.

I occasionally think about a cartoon by Emily Flake in the New Yorker showing a teenage girl sitting on her bedroom floor surrounded by instruments, art supplies, and other hobbies. Her mother says something to the effect of maybe if you focus your energy it’ll come out with more force. The same is true for our work energy. And I would add, don’t wait until you feel like doing it.

In the crush of ever-increasing demands at work and home, we struggle to prioritize and make room for what really matters while keeping the rest of the balls in the air. Mindfulness, time-management, apps – they all promise greater efficiency and better control over the chaos of our modern existence.

A few days ago, I was talking to a colleague over lunch about the transition from managing single projects to managing many projects and people who manage projects. It can be overwhelming and the usual time-management techniques are useful, but not quite enough. So what works?

1. Prioritize

If you have a clear sense of your mission – for the day or for the year – you can use it as a measure for whether something belongs on your to-do list.

  • Is it directly relevant to your mission?
  • When will you do it?
  • How long will it take?

I have found that putting a few things on your list for first thing in the morning and sticking to that gives you a mental boost for the rest of the day. Not to mention, you can cross them off the list!

2. Plan for interruptions

This is especially important when you’re managing other people. They need your time and input. If you can, it helps to block periods of time when you’ll be available to them. This won’t completely eliminate interruptions, but knowing when you’re likely to be available helps others respect the times you’re not.

  • Are there times when you’re likely to be in your office with the door open?
  • If you manage people in other locations, do you make a point of being there at certain times of the day?
  • Do you respond to email all day (and night?) or do people know they’re most likely to hear from your at certain times of the day?
  • If there’s a big project or a team that requires more time than usual, do you have a standing time for questions? Do you respect that time on your calendar?

3. Say No

This is hard. How many of us really believe someone who begins a request with “it’s okay if you don’t have time but….” Yet we admire the people around us who are able to say “I don’t have time right now,” or who let us know that if they take that task on they’ll have to let something else go.

In a world of overachievers and super-women, it can be hard to say no, but it’s a muscle worth developing.

If you have a hard time delegating, or tend to take everything on yourself, you may want to recognize that tendency and address it.

4. Act now

Don’t wait until you feel like filling out end of the year budget reports, paperwork for evaluations, filing a project, or whatever task is your least favorite. You probably won’t ever feel like doing it, you’ll just hit that point of panic when the angst of your long-neglected work outweighs the ugh factor of doing it.

Is it on your list for today?

Then just do it.

And it doesn’t hurt to have something you enjoy on the list just behind it!

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