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Essentials Over Incidentals

Adept Execs Choose Essentials Over Incidentals


Savvy workers distinguish unproductive activities from high-return tasks. How they get to the point:

Use hyperdrive. Your most productive stretch? “The week before vacation,” said Steve McClatchy, author of the New York Times Bestseller “Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example.” Motivated people make work disappear. “It’s so much easier to do things you have to do when you have something you want to do so close by. Don’t wait for just the week before vacation to be highly productive, make it your goal to consistently balance the things you want to do with the things you have to do,” he said.

Divide and conquer. McClatchy divides toil into two categories: Maintenance includes chores you have to do. Improvement includes activities you don’t have to do, but want to do.

Too often, we let those have-tos take up our days. Letting maintenance dominate your productive time leads to gerbil-wheel discontent.

“Too much maintenance leads to the feelings of burn out and resentment. When you’re burned out it kills your productivity,” McClatchy said.

Burn out is your own discontent with a lack of things you want to do in your life. When you don’t plan for things that get you excited and make your life better you’re killing your productivity.

For a healthier approach, make it a priority to schedule exciting and fulfilling activities regularly. Schedule them, defend the time to do them, and truly enjoy them.

“Balance has nothing to do with how much time we spend working versus not working, it’s about balancing the things you have to do with the things you want to do,” he told IBD.

Carve out time. Put those want-to items on your calendar, defend them, and leave the maintenance for the to-do list. A to-do list is for getting more done faster. The calendar helps us to stop, shift gears and get into want-to mode. “Your calendar is a great expression of your priorities. When you schedule something on your calendar, defend time for it, and put off other tasks because of it, you are showing that this is important to you,” said McClatchy.

Clarify. McClatchy gives an expediency lesson using an example from his stonemason brother, who answers the phone with: “I’m in a chimney right now. What do you need?”

When a caller understands what work is being interrupted it prompts them to either get right to the question, have a quick information exchange, or schedule a future time to talk instead.

You can handle in-person disruptions in the office similarly. The problem with information work is that it doesn’t always look like work, and people don’t know what they are interrupting. “When asked if you have a minute to talk, let the interrupter know what is being interrupted and then ask a pointed question. If you don’t let them know that they are actually interrupting productive time, then the interruption can easily fall into small talk. If you don’t have time for small talk today then this is a polite and respectful way of keeping a two minute interruption to two minutes,” McClatchy says.

Interruptions are inevitable, so manage them. “Don’t be vague. Just be polite, tell people what’s going on, and they will get it,” he said.

Be succinct. “The rambling has to stop,” said Joseph McCormack, author of “Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.”

One reason he takes aim on verbosity? Today’s upsurge in mobile and social media means more words, videos, texts and tweets vie for everyone’s attention. “The environment is not like it was three to five years ago,” he said.

A concise approach hits the spot.

“It’s an essential 21st century skill,” McCormack said. “You’re giving people less, but it’s so satisfying they want more.”

Avoid meandering. Instead of going over points A, B and C to get to conclusion D, lead with your finale. McCormack calls it the headline approach. “Say: ‘It’s D.’ Then tell me how we got there,” he said.

Take a breath. If you’re enjoying what you’re saying, stop. “At that point, you’ve already made yourself clear,” McCormack said. If you continue, “you lose people.”

Stop spinning wheels. Wasting time grousing about lack of time, money or resources?

Eve Wright, author of “Life at the Speed of Passion,” calls these excuses monuments to nothingness — because they lead nowhere.

Instead of complaining, build an action plan. “That’s my M.O.,” Wright said. “I figure out: What are the steps I need to put in place? How do I work my way there?”

Choose your influence. “You are to a large degree the company you keep,” Wright said. If you surround yourself with negative dream crushers, “you are going to be pushed in that same direction.”
Keep can-do companions.

“Pay attention to the culture that your social circle breathes,” Wright said. “You have to make a concerted effort to put yourself with people moving in the same direction.”

Steve McClatchy is the author of the award-winning New York Times Bestseller DecideWork Smarter, Reduce Your Stress & Lead by Example. If you would like to learn more about having Steve deliver a virtual or in-person presentation or workshop for your organization, team, or association, email


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