Do this simple exercise:
Write down the top 3 things that are important to you. Examples might be: Health, Family, Friends, Financial security, Happiness, Life Experiences, Fulfilment. Or you might look at things particular to work: things like big projects, managing people, or improving process or customer experience.
Now, somewhere else on the page writedown the things that consume most of your effort. Read that carefully..... I said EFFORT, not TIME. Effort is more about intensity, focus. planning and attention. How often do you really think about these things, how you are going to achieve them and then work tirelessly to make these goals a reality?
If you are like most people I work with, then there is probably a huge discrepancy between these two things. There is generally a massive difference between what people say is really important and what they actually do on a daily basis.
They say projects and managing people is important, but they spend a lot of time putting out fires and doing ‘busy work’.
Or they say health and family is really important, but put a much larger focus on work outcomes and goals.
You need to understand our hardwiring. Time completely changes our perception of what’s important. Something right now always seems far more compelling than something that is in the future. So we tend to pay more attention to immediate rewards.
And those things that we feel are most important - mainly things outside of work - have none of the aspects that make things important right now. There is rarely an immediate deadline, nor is there someone holding us accountable. And what’s more, the effort we put in might not actually give us a reward until sometime in the future.
By contrast, some aspects of work are structured so that immediate rewards are everywhere. Even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like it, immediate rewards are things like:
- Getting your boss off your back
- Hitting your deadline
- Doing small things that give you a sense of achievement (sometimes even though they aren’t making a big impact)
- Immediate gratification
- Solving small problems for an instant, small win
So what can we do about this?
Focus on immediate actions, then future outcomes
See this piece I did that shows how our usual short and medium terms goals don’t really work. Instead, pick something that you can do today that will get you closer to one of those things you said was really important. Write down the immediate reward you will get from it, as well as the long term reward. Let’s say you decide you are going to leave work at 5pm to see your family. The immediate reward is time with your family. The long term reward is great relationships.
Keep it front of mind
Write this immediate action down somewhere you can see it, so you can keep it front of mind. In the struggle for out attention, new behaviours are often forgotten. At the end of the day cross this thing of the list when it’s done. This small act gives you a sense of progress and achievement.
Build your capacity for doing the important things
Do this three days this week. We build our ability to focus on big picture things by constantly doing it. This is a form of self-discipline and delaying the gratification of doing the things which might give us a ‘quick fix’. And it is a skill that we can practice and improve.
Pick a different thing each day and work towards the things you really want, as well as working toward your work goals. One doesn’t necessarily have to suffer because of the other - if you focus on the right things at the right times, and understand what is actually most important at any given time during the day, you’ll hopefully get closer to what you really want.