10 Reasons Why You Aren’t Done Yet

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling overwhelmed with my workload. I always leave the office at 6:00 p.m. in order to have dinner with my family. Then I typically get back on my laptop and catch up on my email. I shoot to be in bed no later than 10:00 p.m.

A Man Sleeping on His Computer - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/jhorrocks, Image #5058401

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/jhorrocks

However, for several nights in a row, I did not get to bed until almost midnight. As a result, I slept in longer and stopped running. I became irritable and started losing focus. It was clear that I needed to change something—and now!

My experience isn’t unique. Every where I go, people seem to be overwhelmed by the volume of their work. With layoffs in many businesses, employees are pulling double-duty. It’s time to get serious and triage our workloads.

Late one night, I caught myself saying to my wife Gail for the third time, “Just a few more minutes, Honey. I’m almost done.” Immediately, I realized I was lying to her and to myself. I closed my laptop and jotted down a list of ten things that had kept me from completing their work. Do these apply to you?

  1. Too many meetings. How many of meetings actually advance my agenda and the reason I was hired in the first place. Too often, meetings are simply a way for people to procrastinate and avoid taking responsibility for their decisions. It’s much easier to let “the group” make the decision. Some meetings are legitimate, to be sure. But how many issues can I handle without resorting to a meeting? I need ask, “Do we really need a meeting to address that issue?”
  2. Mindlessly surfing the web. When I was growing up, television was the big time-waster. Now it is the Internet. You look at this Web page, click on that link, visit another page, and then click on another link. Before you know it, you have wasted hours and hours and have nothing to show for it. It’s time to limit our time online. I think I might even try scheduling my Web time.
  3. Being distracted by online pings. I shoot to have my inbox at zero by the end of the day. But do I really need to respond to every message in real time? Do you? Unless you are in customer service, probably not. You can accomplish the same goal by “batching” your inbox processing into distinct blocks of time. This includes Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services.
  4. Allowing people to drop in without an agenda. I usually work with my door open. I want to be accessible to my people. But some people abuse this. They drop by without and agenda and eat up time I don’t have. I always feel badly about bringing the meeting to a close. But if I don’t say “no” to them, I will have to say “no” to more important projects—and perhaps even my family. I am willing to chat for a bit, but I have to be more courageous about standing up and walking my guests to the door.
  5. Being consumed by the urgent. Modern culture is addicted to urgency. People demand an instant response. It is part of our increasingly me-centered world. Everything revolves around my agenda and my priorities. But how much of it is truly urgent. My daughter Megan often reminds me, “Dad, you’re not saving lives; you’re just making books.” Nothing like a big dose of perspective!
  6. Being a perfectionist. Honestly, this is my besetting sin. (Or I should say, one of them.) I am constantly tweaking my projects. The problem is that it always feels like the change is smaller than it really is. This will just take a minute, I think to myself. Two hours later, I am still working on the same project. I like G.K. Chesterton’s quote: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” In other words, not everything has to be perfect. Just get it out the door!
  7. Refusing to delegate. This one is also tough for me. I can’t argue that I don’t have anyone to help. I have plenty of resources available. But I kid myself into thinking it will be faster if I just do it myself. I don’t want to take the time to explain to someone else how I want it done. Frankly, my own arrogance is probably at the root of this one. I need to take my own advice.
  8. Not starting the day with a to-do list. I am so much more productive when I take ten minutes and actually decide what tasks I want to accomplish TODAY. I use a software package called Things, and it is perfect for this. I can take any of my tasks and assign them to the “Today Focus.” (They also have an iPhone app that syncs with the desktop.) When I just launch into the day without a to-do list, I pay for it later—in spades.
  9. Not committing to an end time. As the old adage goes, “Work expands to the time allotted to it.” This explains why the week before your vacation is one of the most productive weeks of the year. You have a fixed end-time, and that forces you to be efficient. However, this also works with your daily schedule. I have a rule that I observe religiously: I leave the office by 6:00 p.m. My problem is that I sometimes take work home and then allow my evenings to become a buffer for the overflow. This has to stop.
  10. Not scheduling time to work. If I don’t have a plan for my day, chances are, someone else does. On Sunday evenings, I go through and schedule blocks of time that I call “Office Work.” These are essentially appointments with myself to get specific projects done. When other people check my calendar, these blocks show up as “busy.” If someone asks me if I am free at that time, I can legitimately say, “No, I’m afraid I have another commitment at that time.” This has been one of the most helpful tools in my toolbox.

If you are feeling like your work/life balance is out of kilter, maybe it’s time for you to make a list of the reasons you aren’t done yet. If you are reading this after hours, that could be a clue.

Questions: Why aren’t you done yet? What is keeping you at the office late?
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  • http://blog.brodzinski.com Pawel Brodzinski

    I'd add:

    Deciding what doesn't need any work from you and immediately throwing it out of the list. Personally I often have a task on todo list for weeks before realizing I don't (and didn't) have to do anything about this. It's just distracting clutter.

    Wise (limited) distractions during the day. I mean self-initiated ones like grabbing yet another coffee or water-cooler chit-chat etc. They are important to take a short break and get back to work with strong focus but they are often overdosed, like hour-long chat etc.
    My recent post Agile Bullshit: Agile Presentations Are So Naive

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff

    Stumbled upon this while "mindlessly surfing the web." Oops. At any rate, it was great and I'm guilty of all these. Thanks for being real and calling us perfectionists out.
    My recent post Life Is Full of Bullies

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  • Makeda

    I'm guilty of a lot of these; gotta work on that. Thanks for sharing these.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/ladybug010 Devon Smith

    Great post! It is so hard to stay on track when there are emergencies and urgent deadlines that come in without plan every day. Sticking it out and slogging through your to do list isn't always easy. Your post makes great points about identifying the trouble issues and being aware of them. Work life balance is important, and setting a schedule and sticking to it is harder than it sounds.
    I wrote a post about finding worth in those hard days here: http://ladybug010.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/findin
    My recent post Lay Siege to your Servers

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/nyurian nyurian

    great post bro…

  • http://www.unwilling2settle.com Greg Gilbert

    Michael, great information. One of my mentors explained it to me in the bucket story. Go to http://www.unwilling2settle.com and click the big red sample button on the top left. Really enjoy your blogs. Greg

  • Christine Sine

    I was a little surprised and also disappointed by your list of why you aren't done yet. It seems to me that the major reason we allow work to consume us (and if yo work until 10 pm most evenings even with a break to be with your family then work is consuming you) is because we misunderstand God's priorities. Work becomes the focus of our day rather then a way to draw both ourselves and others closer to God and God's kingdom purposes. When I feel consumed by the "I am not done yet?" syndrome I find that the best solution to take some time off, to slow down and sit quietly in God's presence – not talking to God but listening and allowing God to talk to me. It is often in that quiet place that I am able to refocus my priorities which usually means slowing down and ignoring the things that have little if anything to do with what God wants me to be doing

    • http://Followtheleaguer.com Tazmin Ivey

      Christine, I agree with your point of view, but why couldn’t both theories work hand in hand? I find spending quiet time with God in the morning helps maintain perspective throughout the day, but there is some undeniable wisdom in using productivity tools to help manage our time effectively.

  • http://twitter.com/mholloway49 @mholloway49

    Excellent list. I would add this. When you have something to talk to someone about face-to-face, go to their office. You then can control the agenda and the time.


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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KCCY5XVMOETIW7AXFTNHLL5R7E Medical Supply

    After reading this post, it has motivated me to become more directed in my daily tasks. Thanks for the insight and continue to provide great content.

    Daniel at QuickMedical http://www.quickmedical.com

  • jameskirk

    reason # 1 you cant be done yet because the word done refers the the donenes or temp of food so you would have to be cooked in a oven to be done its are you finished 

  • http://www.ginktage.com/ Senthil Kumar B

    Well , all i would like to say is that the article relates perfectly to my day to day activities Work . Making a TODO list is finr for the day , but when Allowing people to drop in without an agenda happens frequently , you tend to be more unproductive and end up working late to complete them :)

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