Five Ways to Know When You’re Done with What You’re Doing
The curse for many of us modern-day movers and shakers is that we never seem to
have enough time to do everything that needs doing. There simply aren’t enough
hours in the work day (or even the work week!) to accomplish everything on our to-do
Worse yet, when we finally do get on a productivity roll, there always seems to be a
distraction (or two, or three) waiting in the wings to throw us off course. But the
reality, says Jason Womack, is that we could actually accomplish a lot more each day if
we would just learn to recognize and acknowledge when we’re done with what we’re
“One of the biggest time wasters we all face is spending too much time on those things
that don’t require it,” says Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach,
and author of the new book Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make
More (Wiley, February 2012, ISBN: 978-1-118-12198-6, $24.95). “When we do so, we lose
the time we actually should be spending on more difficult or time-intensive tasks. But
when you learn to recognize when you’re done with a task, you’ll have valuable
minutes and maybe even hours added back into your day.”
Womack’s book is packed with strategies, tactics, tools, and processes to help readers
consistently and incrementally improve their performance at work. It teaches the
fundamentals of workflow and human performance and spells out how to get more
done, on time, with fewer resources, and with less stress. But more than that, it
provides brilliant insights into why we tend to do what we’ve always done -- and how
we can break out of the patterns that hold us back.
“It often seems that we put off the most important things on our to-do lists until we
feel like we have the ‘time’ to work on them,” notes Womack. “When you learn to
recognize when you’re done with projects, big and small, you’ll immediately find that
you have a lot more time than you thought you did. Time you can use to focus on
those things that truly matter.”
How do you know when you're "done"? Here are five ways:
1. Stop majoring in the minors.
Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then,
we convince ourselves that we “just didn’t have enough time” to get to the harder
stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you’re done and freeing up time during
your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential.
“Before you start your work day, think about what your high leverage activities are
and what your low leverage activities are,” says Womack. “For the low leverage
activities, force yourself to move through them as quickly as possible. With these tasks
-- for example, writing an email to a colleague -- perfection isn’t necessary, and there’s
no need to waste time wringing your hands over every word. When you can
accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to do
those major tasks justice.”
2. Don’t overwrite emails.
Much of your time -- probably too much -- each day gets eaten up by email. Make a
conscious effort to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible.
“Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the
recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened,” advises
Womack. “And while long emails waste the time it takes you to write them, keep in
mind that the person receiving the email doesn’t want to have to spend so much time
reading it either. Chances are your boss doesn’t want or need a three-paragraph
rundown of how your client meeting went. He just wants to know if the client is happy
and continuing business with you.”
3. Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls.
Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you’ve allotted for them. Set
an hour for a meeting and you’re sure to go the full hour.
“Pay close attention to how much of your meeting is actually spent focused on the
important stuff,” notes Womack. “If you spend 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning or
end of the meeting discussing your coworker’s golf game, then next time reduce the
amount of time allotted for the meeting. And always know the meeting’s or call’s
objectives before you begin. That way you can get to them right away.”
4. Set your own deadlines and stick to them.
It’s very easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or
things others think you should do.
“Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions,” says
Womack. “If a colleague calls you about a non-urgent task, you can let him know
you’ve got a 3:00 p.m. deadline that you have to meet. There’s no need for him to
know that it’s self-imposed! And then as 3:00 p.m. draws near, start wrapping up that
5. Know when it’s time to ask for help.
Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? Did you walk away from it
for a while and then come back to it hoping you’d suddenly know what to do?
Sometimes knowing when you’re done is knowing when you, specifically, can’t take a
project any further.
“You simply might not have the right expertise to completely finish a certain project,”
says Womack. “And that’s okay. Wasting time on something you’re never going to be
able to figure out is much worse than asking for help!”
“When you put in place steps to help you know when you’re done, you’ll be surprised
and pleased with how much, well, you can get done,” says Womack. “It will truly free
up time in your day that you can use to focus on areas where it’s really needed. As a
result, you’ll have a more gratifying work day and you’ll be happier overall.”
About the Book:
Your Best Just Got Better:
Work Smarter, Think Bigger,
(Wiley, February 2012,
ISBN: 978-1-118-12198-6, $24.95)
is available at bookstores nationwide
and from major online booksellers.
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