It seems that every time I take some time off (whether it’s a long weekend or paternity leave), I bring a fresh perspective about my work back to the office. I tell myself in the days beforehand I’m going work smarter, seek better balance, avoid more distractions, and so forth.
With the best of intentions, these objectives too often fall by the wayside once I’m back in the heat of the battle. I’ll do some of them, sometimes, but it’s too easy to fall back into my old habits.
In the hopes that this time will be different, I wrote down six habits before I left (and I wrote them to myself). Here’s what I’m working on:
Focus on what’s important (not merely urgent)
Every day there are distractions, fire drills, emails and voicemails that need or want responses. Some of these are important, but most aren’t both important and urgent. You don’t owe everything an immediate response. Instead, focus on what’s most important right now, that day. Focus on what’s going to have the most impact. Get it done before anything else.
Dig into the big projects (not just the fast, easy tasks)
It feels good to get little things off of your plate. Clear your inbox. Tackle the fast, easy tasks first. But those little things don’t always get you where you want to go. With the same amount of time, force yourself to dig into the bigger, more complicated projects. Yes, then can often be more intimidating. But their ROI is significantly higher. Plus, once you get started you know it’ll be faster and easier to finish than you thought up front.
Read the Wall Street Journal every day
You get busy with the day and don’t make it a priority, yet every time you commit the time you get better – you learn something new, you gain a fresh perspective, you find something worth sharing with a client, a prospect, a partner or someone else you want to meet. Focus on just 10-15 minutes to scan headlines, and you’ll be motivated to read deeper.
Stop checking email, Twitter and your RSS reader so often
Turn them off when you need to focus (which is most of your day). You know what needs to get done, what your biggest priorities are today – and they’re not in your inbox. Stay connected, keep conversations going, but you’ll get far more done if you’re not in one or more of these every hour.
Dedicate at least an hour to uninterrupted thinking every day
Close your door, turn off all distractions, and print out what you need to think about. It can be a topic to brainstorm, something strategic that needs a response, the outline of a new plan or proposal. Just don’t initiate these deep thinking efforts at your desk, with email on another screen, and other distractions in front of you. Work at a separate table, somewhere over lunch, at a coffee shop in the morning. You know these can be the most productive parts of your day. Do it more often.
Leave work for tomorrow
You can’t get everything done today, nor should you. Take time to go home, be with your family, watch a ballgame, get some exercise and enough sleep. This means being comfortable with leaving some work for another day, as well as leaving other projects on the table indefinitely. You can’t do everything, and you need balance – not just for yourself and your family, but to make tomorrow a more productive day as well.
Those are the habits I want to keep. What are yours? If you could start new habits tomorrow to be more effective, successful and balanced, what would they be?