Escaping Bad Habits at Work

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This is a reminder for myself to reassess my day-to-day activities and to focus my efforts on areas that will have greater positive impact on the company. In recent months, I’ve had some difficulty prioritizing and identifying the areas where my efforts will have the greatest impact. As a result, I’ve found myself frustrated, scatter-brained, and also uncertain about a number of things. While this feeling has been on my mind, I’ve also been evasive about confronting it. Instead, I’ve been taking the easier path of accomplishing small, repetitive tasks and reacting to whatever challenges and problems come up at work. The proactive planning and big-picture thinking that I felt so strongly about earlier in the year has receded, and I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed by the lack of control I exert over my own time and assignments.

I know it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the reason I’m writing this is to help myself snap out of it and visualize a different path. I’ve got Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive on me to help reinforce the way I should be behaving. The two practices that come most to mind are know thy time and first things first.

Knowing My Time

Showing up early to work and staying late isn’t helpful. I have to take a closer account of my hour-by-hour activities and also take steps to clear out the activities that aren’t ultimately helpful to the company. There are several areas where I have become a bottleneck in the process or where I feel like my input is necessary for progress. I should re-evaluate these and see what kind of process or delegation can be put into place in order to free up my time and to smooth out the flow of work.

First Things First

On a given day, I can immerse myself in a number of things: calls with clients about a new project, overseeing some deliverable that our team is working on, sitting in on a new project kickoff meeting, training team members on a new process, etc. Finding the most impactful thing to do is tough because the most impactful things are often not that urgent, whereas so many things that pop up on my radar label themselves as “important, urgent”. Both Drucker in The Effective Executive and Richard Rumelt in Good Strategy Bad Strategy talk about the difficulty and importance of deciding what not to do. It is in saying no to certain activities that good choices are allowed to emerge and take form. The frustrating thing for me right now is that I feel like I have a decent idea of the things I need to focus on and prioritize, but a) I find these tasks and initiatives more mentally taxing and triggering my procrastinator impulses and b) I feel like I am lacking the courage to say no to certain things for fear of something catastrophic (even though I know most things will just be fine).

It Boils Down to Courage

I think the last statement is essentially what my problems come down to. In some ways, it feels easier to keep doing what I’m doing because the frustrations are subtle and I can always distract myself for long enough to momentarily forget my troubles. But to proactively reassess how I spend my time, to restructure my days, to boldly say no, and to mentally focus on the hard things–these things take discipline and energy, and things will feel a lot worse before they feel better. Am I willing to go through with that? The answer has to be yes, of course. That I let myself even get to this point is a bit disappointing, but I’m hopeful that I’ll break some of these bad habits and establish a new and better way of working.

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