Your desk is a mess, your inbox is overflowing, and you're frazzled. Whenever someone passes by, a new project lands in your lap. You never get to do the work you want to do, only the work your boss wants you to do.
Sound like your average day? If so, it's time to tackle the tasks that overwhelm you, says Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work and a senior partner at Box of Crayons, a workplace coaching organization. The first thing to do is to take control, and stop blaming your situation on those around you, Mr. Bungay Stanier told a packed audience at a recent Human Resources Professionals Association conference.
Don't say "I hope they get their act together" about your superiors at work, he says. "It makes you into a bit of a victim."
There are three key attitudes you need to develop in order to find, start and stay motivated to do great work, he adds.
The first is focus: knowing what your best work is and staying attuned to doing more of it. The second is courage: the willingness to take the first step toward doing that great work. The third is resilience: the ability to push to the finish line.
To get more time to do the work you want to do, the key skill you need is the ability to say "no" more effectively, Mr. Bungay Stainer says, or rather "say 'yes' more slowly."
"We suck at being able to say 'no,'" he said in an interview after his seminar.
When someone asks you to do something, pose a number of strategic questions to find out whether you're the right person for the job, or whether the task is worth your time: Why are you asking me? What specific skill do I have to accomplish this task? Is this truly urgent? Have you asked anyone else to do this?
If the person can't answer those questions immediately, it's a hint that you're not the right person for the job.
At the start of each day, Mr. Bungay Stanier says you should devote 10 to 15 minutes to determining what's on your to-do list and to articulate one key action that will move your great work forward. He also has a simple tool to help you determine where you should spend most of your time, and how to isolate tasks you can delegate to others or cut out altogether.
It starts with a simple four-quadrant grid, with "I care" on the left hand side and "They care" (meaning your boss) on the bottom. On the left-hand side at the top is "high" and at the bottom is "low." Along the bottom, on the left is "low" and on the right is "high." By plotting your activities on the grid, you can determine where you want to allot more of your time and energy.
The tool "is an immediate filter for things that land on your desk" and it "helps you check in on what's important," Mr. Bungay Stanier says.
Then take a look at where your tasks land in the grid.
The "I don't care-They don't care" quadrant (bottom left): These are tasks you must find a way to jettison. They aren't important to you or your boss. Set up a time to talk to your boss so these mundane duties can be eradicated. Or if they still need to be done, find someone else to do them. "Stop it! You're doing it out of a moment of guilt," he says.
The "I care-They care" quadrant (top right): These are projects and tasks you want to do and your boss wants you to do. So "do more of it," says Mr. Bungay Stanier. "That's a happy place." And these are tasks you want to do "excellently."
The "They care-I don't care" quadrant (bottom right): These are tasks you don't want to do but are important to your boss. These are items you need to find a way to do more efficiently. Maybe they don't need to be done excellently, just adequately. Or better yet, they are tasks that can be delegated to others who might find them more interesting than you do.
The "I care-They don't care" quadrant (top left): These are your goals and passions but they aren't necessarily seen as important by your boss. To fix this, "tell them about it so they do care," he says. Or, try to find someone in your company who does care. If you can't, it may be a hint that you need to find a different role in your company or need to look for a new job elsewhere.