How to Let Go of the Unimportant

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 10.01.28 AMYou know that combination frantic, frustrated, and disappointed feeling you get when you realize that, once again, you didn’t work on any of your big objectives in your work day?

It happens to all of us. And it might be because you think there’s really a way to “get it all done”—but you’re just not able to do it.

The biggest myth in time management

According to a popular Harvard Business Review article“the idea that we can get it all done is the biggest myth in time management.”

The article goes on to say, “Once we admit that we aren’t going to get it all done, we’re in a much better position to make explicit choices about what we are going to do. Instead of letting things haphazardly fall through the cracks, we can intentionally push the unimportant things aside and focus our energy on the things that matter most (emphasis mine).”

We think we can do the little things first

See, when you think you’ll be able to get it all done, you do the little things first, to get them out of the way. Pretty soon you’ve run out of time and haven’t done a thing to further your big objectives—right?

So here’s an exercise to try: give yourself a really tight time limit, and say that’s all the time you have to meet an important goal. Tell yourself you only have two hours to get that report done (even if you really don’t have to get it to the client until next week). Pretend the client will be at your door in two hours.

Quickly survey everything that goes into putting the report together—what would you absolutely positively have to do in those two hours to make sure you could have something for her when she shows up? Cut out everything else. Then set your timer and get to work.

It’s like when you get a phone call from your in-laws that they’ll be at your house in an hour—it’s amazing what you can do to make your house presentable in that amount of time that you wouldn’t have been able to without that deadline.

Our own deadlines help us cut the fat

When we don’t set our own deadlines for ourselves (and stick to them), we think we have all the time in the world, and we put too much into things. We think we can do it all. Then, when the real deadline shows up, we’re screwed. We’ve spent our time doing little things that aren’t very important, and there’s no time left to do the really important stuff.

You can let the unimportant things go

Try doing only the important things today (even though the client really isn’t going to be at your door in two hours), and let the rest go.

At the end of the day, you will have made progress towards your big goals. And some of the little unimportant things will have gone undone. (Notice how little that matters, too.)

You might even find you have time to go back and add in a few of the small things you let go. Or maybe not :)

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