Stop Making Commitments That Keep You from Getting Important Work Done
We sometime make decisions that seem right, but in hindsight, we wonder what we were thinking at the time. Over committing is exhausting. In this article, Rod Burkert shares his thoughts on how to get back on track and focus on the main priorities.
I donâ€™t know about you, but sometimes I look at an event on my schedule and think: Why did I agree to do this/write that/be there? Iâ€™m sure it made sense at the time, but nowâ€”when I am trying to get something important doneâ€”Iâ€™ve got to do this!
So how do you put a brake on making commitments that derail you from getting your most important work done? Itâ€™s all a matter of degree, of course.
There are the obvious distractions, like surfing the internet and checking your fantasy football results. You overcome these with willpowerâ€”and science has shown that willpower can be strengthened (like a muscle) with exercise.
Then there are the less obvious distractions, like being interrupted by a colleagueâ€™s phone call or e-mail asking you a question that you know something about. You overcome these with time shiftingâ€”responding when it is convenient for you to do so.
But itâ€™s the professional distractions that, I think, get the better of us. For example, how about requests to:
- Write an article or present a webinar
- Speak at or attend an industry conference
- Try a new service that may improve our work life
One would think that these â€śopportunitiesâ€ť would be understandable yesesâ€”they are obvious visibility, proficiency, or efficiency boostersâ€”letâ€™s do it!
Certainly, we should take advantage of some of these opportunities. But exactly how much is too much? Exactly when do we get ourselves overcommitted?
Because in my own experience, I find that I despair most over my schedule when a series of yeses, each of which made perfect sense at the time separately from each other, collectively conspire to keep me from doing what I want to doâ€”what I need to do.
So how do we strike a balance?
I came across a blog post, Write an Attention Charter, by Cal Newport (most famously known for his books, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism) is helping me answer that question. Hereâ€™s what he had to say:
â€śAn attention charter is a document that lists the general reasons that youâ€™ll allow for someone or something to lay claim to your time and attention. For each reason, it then describes under what conditions and for what quantities youâ€™ll permit this commitment.â€ť
So going back to the instances I listed above:
- You might decide that you can write one article or present one webinar per quarter. If you accept something for this quarter, the schedule for that activity is full until next quarter.
- You might decide to speak at or attend only one or two conferences a year if certain criteria are met, like the number of attendees, a minimum of X speakers whose topics will improve your service capabilities, or the ability to piggyback family related travel onto the trip.
- You might decide that you can make one significant hardware or software change or addition in your practice every six months.
The hard limits established by the rules you create for yourself, reign in the temptation to say â€śyesâ€ť to more than you should.
At the core of an attention charter is a tool to help us figure out how to stay involved in necessary professional activities without giving up control of the time and attention we need to reserve for our most important work.
So, while itâ€™s hard to say â€śnoâ€ť to reasonable requests without a good reason, an attention charter can give us that reason.
Everyone has a different idea of what a successful practice is. The practice you want is personal because it is based on what â€śsuccessfulâ€ť means to you. I help practitioners focus on the strategies, tactics, tools, and tech to build/grow/scale their versions of successful practices. If you want some help with that, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.