Reactive work is the arch-enemy of smart work, and though a certain amount of it is unavoidable we can get unconsciously trapped in other people’s schedules and priorities more often than not. Planning your work days can save you from reaction by putting your mind into an “action mindset”.
Focus on the important, not the urgent
Urgent stuff is most likely either busywork or something that is important for someone else. The tricky issue is to recognize more subtle instances of urgency.
Always remember that “important” comes from conscious planning, while “urgent” is more like a sudden feeling.
Face the hard stuff first
Once you have it all planned and your priorities are smartly set in stone, nothing could stop you, right? Wrong.
Busywork awaits in the seductive form of that “Quick Tasks” to-do list you put on your desk to boost your morale by getting things done early in the day.
But doing easy things first won’t move your day forward. Solving the hard stuff will.
Someone once wrote that multitasking is “doing twice as much as you should, half as good as you could”.
Multitasking does indeed drain your energy faster. And no matter how good a juggler you are, it will only cover small issues and busywork.
If you want to get the real stuff done - big decisions, hard problem solving, core activities that really advance projects - you must face it one thing at a time.
Block your time
Time-blocking is a planning technique that treats your activities as appointments on your calendar.
Just plan how you’ll spend definite chunks of time during the day and mark yourself busy during those chunks - as you would be if you were attending to a scheduled meeting.
Give yourself some breathing space, and save blocks for reactive work, too. Just don’t fill your best hours with those secondary tasks!
Double your effectiveness with “deep work”
As defined by researcher Cal Newport, "deep work" is the practice of focussed, dedicated time on a single task. With three distinctive traits:
Limited amount of time. Choosing quality over quantity, you’ll want to do some intense work in a relatively short span.
No distraction, whatsoever. No breaks. Getting ready for your deep work session also means setting up mental (and physical) autonomy for the time you’re allotting.
Delve deeply into the problem at hand. Research solutions, ask for help. Increase your knowledge and understanding.
All this planning will have to adapt every day and respond to what your workplace situation will be.
Do not avoid planning just because of uncertainty! Priorities can switch at any time: what cannot change is your conscious attention.
Work takes all the time you allow it to take. Let it be less. Let it be quality time, too.