What you don’t do is as crucial as what you do

Posted by in Productivity


What you don't do is as crucial as what you do

Every day, we’re surrounded by a thousand possibilities to do something. Yet, in choosing from this infinite smorgasboard we often forget one, crucial thing: we are as much defined by what we refrain to do as that which we choose to do. And if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to decide what not to do.


How did that get in there?


Have you ever caught yourself in the sudden realization that you’re doing something that doesn’t belong on your plate? If so, you should hardly be surprised: it’s a global pandemic, which has its roots in the ever-more dynamic nature of the modern workplace. Traditional hierarchies are being eroded, demands increase, new and more diverse skill sets are being developed. and everything seems to be taking on a more collaborative nature.


It is, in other words, the perfect storm: a million and one tasks vying for your attention combined with vaguely defined areas of responsibility which makes it all too easy to accept something you shouldn’t have into your life and onto your task list.


Now, imagine for a moment, the workplace just 30 years ago. Often strictly hierarchical, people were mostly hired to do one thing and do it well, and if someone strayed from their path they would be subject to swift reactions. More mechanical in nature, the singular nature of jobs also meant it was easier to measure someone’s efficiency and as such became a natural focal point; unlike today, the effectiveness of a person was rarely in question beyond the upper echelons of management.


It’s more than a bit of a stretch to say things were better back then, but that doesn’t mean the contrast cannot teach us anything: there is a value in working with goals that are sufficiently clear for us to say no to the things that distract us from achieving them – whether at work or in life in general. To delve into clichés for a moment, there is also the fact that the shortest distance between two points is (usually) a straight line.


The tasks that you should seek to eliminate are those that distract you from shortest path towards your – hopefully – clearly defined goal.


How to get it out of there


The first thing to check, regardless of whose employ you are in, is whether you have a succinct job description. If not, write one yourself which describes what you will have achieved 6 months from now – as well as what you need to do to get there. You’re aiming for a short, concise document; if you end up with a long, rambling one, take it as a sign that something is wrong either with your employer or your own perception of your role.


Then, grab your task list, red marker in hand, and start bullet-pointing those tasks which do not align with what you’ve just written down. Subsequently, argue each point with yourself on the basis of which value it will contribute towards the achievement of your stated goal. This is crucial for finding out whether you simply don’t like a task and want an excuse to get rid of it, or whether it is in fact redundant to your role.


Remember: the consequence of deciding there’s something you don’t want to do always brings with it a certain amount of fear. If you’re self-employed, you could quickly feel as if you’re missing out on an opportunity. If you’re employed, you realize that you’ll have to explain to someone else why a given task should no longer exist, or why you want to get rid of it – and whether this will be interpreted to your detriment. Both reactions are perfectly natural, and will only subside if you’ve given sufficient thought to the value of the task.


How to convince everyone else to get it out of there


Lastly, unless you have the freedom to remove redundant tasks at your own whim, there’s a sales job waiting for you.


Talk to the people who have a vested interest in the task, and convince them of a bigger picture where, at the very least, the task is determined to hold value – but doesn’t belong on your plate. Reach a consensus, or a decision from your superior, and argue that your time is better spent elsewhere. At this point in the process, preparation from the former step is critical: if you can’t tell someone in fifteen words or less why you shouldn’t be doing this, you have failed.


If done correctly, you should be left with fewer tasks on your plate and with the bonus of a renewed sense of purpose – which has a tendency of manifesting itself in all sorts of positive ways.