Focus

These days, if you’re a talented individual, everyone will want your help on one thing or another. This happens all the time at the workplace.

I mean, just look at Al Gore. Some enterprising young fellow who didn’t want to do his Environmental Studies homework offered Mr. Gore $50 and the opportunity… and now we have all sorts of inconvenient truths out there.

So, short of hiring Al Gore as your personal office assistant and focus-keeper-pro-tempore (believe me, he rules with an iron fist), what can you do to make sure that the tasks you are finishing are… well, the ones you’re supposed to be finishing? I mean, honestly, when you’re being inundated by a flood of requests, what can save you? How do you keep your focus without letting down your co-workers? Can you finish what you’re supposed to be doing without becoming your office’s version of Dwight?

Yes! But you must make goals!

When it comes down to it – only you and your boss know which tasks are the ones you need to finish first. Unfortunately, no career exists in a vacuum (metaphorically, speaking of course). If you don’t help your co-workers with a task every now and then, they definitely will return the favor by not helping you out when you desperately need one of their skills. Not even Al Gore can save you, then.

Create a task list – simple goals that will help you achieve the results you need while not alienating your co-workers. Remember – you’re creating your task list using SMART goals. You want to set a timeline for each task on the list – including estimated time to complete with some “give” – usually an hour or two. You should also set a priority for each task on the list, including your co-worker’s tasks. If you have time left over, help your co-workers out – after all, they might be able to help you out with your projects. If not, tell them when you will have time to help them and ask for them to come back at that time – this is called skillful rejection. You’re telling them “no, not right now”. But what they hear is, “yes, I’ll help you very soon”.

Be honest about your time constraints – both with your boss and with your co-workers. If you honestly think your time can be better spent helping out a co-worker with their problem than on yours, don’t be afraid to say so (gently – remember, they’re still the boss and can override you). If you can’t finish a task in the time allotted, ask for more resources or more time. Sometimes you won’t get either, but if you can learn the art of “skillful rejection” with your co-workers, you’ll have most of the time you need.

Utilize your time as best you can by making sure you understand all the problems in front of you – five more minutes gathering information can save you a lot of time in the long run. Taking longer in person to “gather requirements”, so to speak, can save you hours-long chains of e-mails.

Once you have your task list and have given each one a priority, bust on down through your list and re-evaluate priorities and time needed after each completed task. (You can even high-five Al Gore if you want). Time management is a difficult skill to master – but keep practicing!

Did I miss something? Let me know by commenting!

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