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Focusing on ‘the next right thing’

03.02.2017 - by Tom Jones

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For the average person working in digital marketing, the explosion of marketing channels, data, formats and technologies has resulted in literally insurmountable to-do lists.

There are too many moving parts, too many decisions to make and manage, and not enough hours in the day to do it all.

"Staying focused on 'the next right thing' helps makes us more productive and much happier."

Overwhelming workloads can reduce productivity, lead to less effective decision making and be a source of significant stress. These factors combined sap enjoyment from each working day – affecting the overall wellbeing of a team and the quality of work they can deliver.

Typical responses to this problem include “you just need to plan better” and “you need to learn how to delegate”. While these may be true, I think they also miss the point.

The truth is, you can’t do it all. If you try, you’ll end up doing some work; but not your best work. You’ll be left stressed out and wound up by the towering to-do list, and stripped of a sense of achievement as you reflect on a job done badly.

There is a better way. Below I describe some ways of thinking about your work that can help ensure everything you do delivers a material benefit; allowing you to move forward productively, without being crushed by the weight of all the options in front of you.

Accept that you can’t do it all.

Focus on what you can do. Whenever you start to feel those pangs of anxiety creep in as your to-do list grows or a deadline approaches, stop what you’re doing and take stock of where you are. Then…

Reflect on the outcomes you’re working towards, not the processes you’re wrapped up in.

Write down any jobs that are floating around in your head but not committed to a list anywhere. For each outcome you’re working to achieve, identify what items on your list won’t help you achieve those goals, and what items will move you one step closer to the desired result.

Then, take a deep breath and do the next right thing that is in your power to achieve.

This could mean any number of different things, like:

  • Switching from what you were doing to a more pressing task.
  • Getting support from a colleague whose help will let you move a task forward.
  • Identifying any dependencies on other people, and then speaking to those people to agree timelines and next steps.
  • Communicating your concerns around deadlines or tasks which seem to be getting too large or daunting to complete.

Taking the time to do this will empower you, and let you regain control of your work. You’ll know that at this moment in time, you are doing everything you can to move your work forward and get to the outcomes you’ve planned.

Our working lives can be stressful, and none of this is intended to trivialise that reality or suggest there’s an easy fix. However, taking time to accept the everyday limits of what we can and cannot achieve, and staying focused on ‘the next right thing’, helps make us more productive and much happier.

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