For many people, this is a typical workday.
It’s also why many have 46,000+ emails in their drafts and 3,000+ Slack messages in a ‘draft’ state.
Start the day, plan it out; meeting time and working time – maybe written down with a cup of coffee in hand. If you are smart – this has already happened for the week at the start of your week.
(Oooh – that’s a Tech Vs. Humans Hot take right there. Shall we continue?)
By 8 a.m., the day is looking manageable.
And then you read your Email and Slack. Finally, read more about our views on Email and Slack.
You think, ok – I got this; I’ll put this “unplanned work” in my working time bucket.
It’s still good – until everyone else in your company wakes up.
Slack received – an urgent need or perhaps an innocent “hello.” And so you respond – creating another 10-15 minutes of unplanned work.
Another Slack received – You ignore this one because it’s written like an email. People: If you have more than two short sentences – use freaking Email – Slack is not the medium for that.
Email received – A forward from your boss – so you read it and respond – another 10-15 minutes of work gone.
Another Email is received (and another and another) – one from the original Slack message – and you begin to respond but then realize you are five minutes late to a meeting that you scheduled. So you save it to your drafts folder.
You attend the meeting, not as prepared as you like, because you spent all of your time helping others solve their problems that you didn’t think about how to solve yours.
And then everything continues like this until you hit a time when you should unplug and spend time with your family.
After everyone is asleep, you hop back on your Email and Slack and do a shit job of catching up. The small things you do then, the big things – you write down, and become tomorrow’s work. And then you collapse in bed to do it all again tomorrow.
There has got to be a better way…and there is.
But first, you need to do a self-inventory to understand what you are currently doing and why:
- Who do you respond to first and why?
- Other than people, are there different ways you prioritize your responses?
- Do you have a response prioritization pattern (An example order of priority: customer, boss, team, friends at work, working group, and then everything else)?
- How do you block time for working time, and do people generally respect that? (If not, is there a pattern or grouping for those who don’t recognize the working time?)
- Do you have deadlines, and are they all equal in size/effort, prioritization, and pressure?
- What work will you always say “Hell yeah” to?
Once you ask yourself these questions and feel you understand the 360-degree perspective of your working time, what can you eliminate or change to be more efficient and focus on the right work? Doing crap work isn’t an option; merely saying, “I need more people to do my work,” is the lazy option.
However, you will likely have too much work when you stack it all up. Especially if you are remote, there is a general bias that remote employees are doing less work, so more work is thrown your way. Thanks to Mark Benioff (of Salesforce) for helping to elevate that bias in December 2022. Elon Musk, Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon, and Amazon have all expressed similar points of view. This is not just the perspective of CEOs but some coworkers who struggle to understand what you may be doing. Therefore, the assumption is that you must not be doing enough.
Interesting side note: The very same Mark Benioff who demanded his workers return to the office later said, “Well, I’m a remote worker. I’ve always been a remote worker my whole life. I don’t work well in an office,” Benioff said. “It just doesn’t work for my personality.”
Either way, you must remain focused on doing the right work for the right projects and doing it with the quality you believe will elevate whoever receives it. You are not a machine, so the value you bring has to be the driving force behind your work prioritization of work. You also have to invest a bit in work that you deem less valuable, but others feel is important. To do this, spend ten minutes in your day to understand the work that you’ve deprioritized (intentionally or not) and why it’s a priority to others – this may open your eyes to other perspectives and win you some friends along the way. Either way, if the work is unplanned and you are having a conversation – always bring up competing priorities to the person asking for your time. Likely, the individual or team asking for your time doesn’t know what you are working on and for whom.
Review how you prioritize your work – is it the right prioritization? If not, ask your boss or team for help. Then, keep the value of the work as the key barometer of success. Focus on quality, not quantity. As a knowledge worker, your knowledge is the value you bring. That’s not an excuse to obsess over one thing repeatedly – you aren’t freaking Van Gogh. (Pause – no, you are not.) Last but not least, you should prioritize your work 3-4x a day. New things come in and shouldn’t be ignored but should be compared against yesterday’s or today’s planned work.
In the end, it is your responsibility to manage your own work. It is no one else’s fault. Being able to do the right work for the right projects while delivering quality is a critical skill for a knowledge worker.