You know the feeling. You’ve made it through a long, busy workday. You’ve completed your list of pressing tasks. Your deadlines have been met. However, in the back of your mind, you can’t help but feel like you haven’t accomplished anything that’s fundamentally important.
Don’t worry. You are not alone.
According to a study by the Journal of Consumer Research, rather than prioritizing more important, long term goals, we often choose to focus on tasks with short completion windows. Meaning, when we concentrate on immediate deadlines first, big picture projects can fall by the wayside.
No matter what industry you work in, at some point you’ve probably experienced a stream of last-minute deliverables requiring immediate attention. What you might not realize is that you may actually be focusing on urgent tasks because they provide immediate payoffs. In other words, you are allowing larger tasks to take second priority because they are more challenging and the reward of goal completion is further away.
Now, while there is no blanket solution and it simply won’t be possible in every scenario, there are ways to focus your attention on important tasks rather than just the urgent items.
Here are some strategies that might help.
Schedule Time for Important Tasks
Consider clearing your schedule for a set period of time. Assign a dedicated amount of time to one pressing task – whether that means a few hours or a full day. For most people, scheduling when and where you will complete a task radically increases productivity.
Remember to be realistic about your time requirements. Large tasks are often unfamiliar, making the timeline to complete them unpredictable. Executing them can feel more complicated than eexpected, so book more time than you will likely need to ensure you are not setting yourself up for a time crunch.
Determine the Most Influential Elements of the Task
Sizeable tasks can be intimidating, making them unappealing and easier to put off. They often require incremental progress.
When starting a big task, do your best to determine the most impactful elements down the last essential ones. Chip away those important components first and then move onto the next. Wrap up the task by completing the elements that are less critical and quicker to finish.
Embrace and Manage Feelings of Worry
Big picture projects and important tasks generally come with higher stakes and greater rewards. They can also involve bigger consequences for under performance or failure, sometimes ensuring anxiety over what could go wrong.
While there is no set formula for coping with anxiety, there are some exercises that can help create good skills for tolerating uncomfortable situations. Try to envision the feeling of success to counteract your worry of what could go wrong. Try mindfulness, gather your thoughts, and calm your mind by practicing a few minutes of meditation before diving into an important task.
Ultimately, repeating the process of starting a task and working through to completion, can be the best way to manage any feelings of anxiety.
Boundaries for Less Important Tasks
Short term tasks have a tendency to take longer than they should to complete. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in menial activities, It is important to incorporate boundaries and time limitations to help keep you on track.
Remember, this is valuable time that could be better spent on something more essential. When you focus on these urgent tasks, it can make you frustrated and exhausted. Eventually taking a negative toll on your creativity, productivity, and well-being.
Imagine you are reviewing a colleague or employees work and find yourself wasting a lot of time redoing it all, over and over. Try setting a limit on how many revisions you are willing to make.
Do What Helps You See the Big Picture
In the midst of a busy workday, it can be challenging to have enough mental space to see the big picture. Pay attention to what naturally helps you clear your mind and put perspective to tasks that might feel important but ultimately may not be.
Try taking small breaks to clear your mind, collaborating with a colleague, or tracking your time to determine how to better allocate your efforts.
Many of us struggle with how to prioritize the important over the urgent tasks and projects. It’s definitely challenging emotionally and cognitively, making this a universal struggle. With a little focus, practice and determination, you can go a long way towards learning your limits with the less urgent assignments and tackling those seemingly overwhelming important tasks.