Most days when I’m working on the computer I’m either in a rush or in the “zone”. Either way, I am trying to focus on the task at hand. Yet distracting thoughts will inevitably pop into my head like a series of exclamation points. Here is a peak inside my head and the intrusive thoughts I’ve had since I started writing this post that have divided my attention:
“I need to remember to pick up more dish soap next time I’m out running errands.”
“Did I promise Jared I’d send him an email about a topic for the upcoming Learn OneNote Conference by Friday?”
“Hey! That would be another great idea for a blog post!”
“I wonder if there’s a new episode of South Park out this week.”
“I really want to find a vegan Apple Fritter recipe.”
You get the point. We’re talking about the type of “Oh yeah! I need to…” thoughts that will interrupt your flow, and poke at your brain until you feel compelled to stop what you’re doing.
So why not just take the two seconds to get it done?
Ok, if it will literally take 30 seconds – sending a five-word text or a two-sentence email, sure, go for it. However, let’s be real. Most things take way longer and you end up wondering where the last half hour went.
Prioritizing is key when you are busy and have deadlines to meet. Wasting time on non-essential tasks won’t help you reach your goal.
There’s also the tendency to procrastinate – especially with things that make us nervous such as complex tasks or activities where we’re uncertain if we’ll succeed. That’s when the delay tactics begin and you arrive at a decision that sounds something like this:
“I’ll start on that project that’s due tomorrow morning… after I get these other quick tasks done and off my plate.”
I spent years following this flawed strategy. I fixated on the length of the list and focused on reducing the number of items on my list. I would look at a To Do list with ten tasks and complete the simple items first. My logic was I would have less to do, and, in theory, have more space in my brain to focus on the bigger, more complex, or important thing that must get done today after.
Here’s the reality:
- As soon as you cross off one small thing off your list, there will be more things to add to the list. The list never ends. That’s life.
- Doing trivial tasks that can wait until later are quick wins. They give you instant gratification like eating a box of Timbits when you’re hungry. It’s a quick fix, but it doesn’t give you long-term benefits. Every small action takes small bites out of your energy until your day is half over and your energy tank is half drained.
What do you do instead?
First – Start your day by working on the important stuff first. Prioritizing what matters will eliminate the feelings of stress, guilt, and anxiety that you would feel if you avoided it. When you get it done, you will feel relieved, accomplished, and satisfied, like you do after you eat a healthy meal.
Second – Leave the small stuff to later when you have less energy. Simple tasks take less brain power. I’m not suggesting you treat them with less respect, however you’ll never give what matters most the attention it deserves if you allow every nagging thought to steer your attention and the direction of your day.
This post is part of my “Get Stuff Done using Business Tricks and Microsoft Office Tips” blog post series.
– Kelly Marshall, Microsoft OneNote MVP