Let’s face it—with so much to do each day, it feels like there are never enough hours to get it all done. With a multitude of urgent tasks on your to-do list, less important responsibilities tend to fall by the wayside and build up over time. And when you do get a spare moment, how likely are you to sit down and take care of something else you have to do, instead of scrolling through your phone or starting up a conversation with a colleague? It’s so much easier to continue procrastinating than to tackle a list of items that aren’t quite emergent but nevertheless have to get done at some point. How do we overcome these tendencies?
Many time management techniques prescribe a set of to-dos but fail to consider how people find motivation. Understanding what motivates you can help you effectively manage your time, increase your morale, and improve your personal efficiency.
How Do You Work?
When you get down to it, most of us fit at least one of these three motivational profiles:
- The planner: Planners believe in following a process, and they thrive on consistency. These are your list-makers. They gain satisfaction both from taking time to prepare and from completing tasks. These individuals focus on quality, not quantity, and they are not known for their speed.
- The detail-oriented: These individuals are strong researchers and prefer to nail down the facts before getting started on implementation. As a result, they tend to be fairly quiet or solitary in their work.
- The entrepreneur: Not to be held down by lists or facts, these individuals get excited when it comes to starting projects or brainstorming new ideas. They may bore easily and feel a need to move forward, failing to see longer-term tasks to fruition.
Now that you’re familiar with these profiles, you might see yourself in one more than the others. To begin fully understanding what motivates you, try out these tips based on the style that suits you best.
Before you take on something new, give yourself time to plan how you will attack it. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “If I had to cut down a tree in an hour, I would spend 40 minutes sharpening the ax and 20 minutes cutting.” Since you typically are not as adaptable as others once a project is underway, take time ahead of implementation to plan for all the resources and information you’ll need.
Make lists. Even if you’re planning your next 24 hours, make a list of what you need to do. Don’t hesitate to purchase a planner, calendar, or software planning tool—you’re likely to find them helpful. When you can see the week, month, and year ahead, this visual continuity of time can provide comfort and help you get more done.
Get your priorities straight. Always prioritize any lists of tasks into three buckets:
3. Would be nice
Focus on critical first and make your way logically down the list.
Finish one task before starting the next. Be sure to complete the task you’re working on before beginning the next one. Or, instead of crossing out an item, move it to another column. It will stress you out and leave you feeling unsettled unless you close the loop. Crossing an item off the list is a huge motivator for you, so be sure not to miss an opportunity to do so.
Perform (reasonable) research. Your output is never quality work unless you have spent enough time researching. You are not good with “winging it.” That being said, be sure you don’t take too long and delay the completion of the task. Try setting a reasonable time limit for yourself, and wrap up your research before time is up.
Assign tasks to others. Due to your need to get specific, you tend to struggle with delegating tasks to staff and relinquishing control of the details. Review the task before you begin, and ask yourself, “Is it worth my time to start working on this?” If it’s not client facing or business related, delegate it to a staff member.
Keep yourself accountable. As a highly detail-oriented person, you tend to get too bogged down in specifics to move forward. Hire a coach or work with a colleague to help keep you accountable.
Be flexible with work completion. Getting work done on the fly works well for you. Since you get started when you feel like it, you should plan to do more complex tasks when you know you’ll have energy to do them. Rather than use a detailed schedule, set aside a day dedicated solely to completing those tasks.
Make it a competition. Set a time limit and compete with yourself. How much can you get done in an hour? This way, you are setting a goal within a short time frame and pushing yourself to meet it.
Skip the lists. It takes too much time to create lists, and they’re not particularly helpful to you. Be sure to keep a pen and paper with you while you’re working, though, so that you can jot down where you left off.
Assign tasks to others. Know when you need to delegate a task to a staff member so it doesn’t get lost and go unfinished.
Discover What Works Best for You
There is no “right” way to tackle and complete tasks on your to-do list. What matters is what’s right for you. What motivates you? What makes you the most efficient? Once you’ve identified your motivational profile, that task list of yours won’t look so bad after all.