Doing Isn’t Everything - Next Action Associates

iStock_000026227241SmallMost of us are back at work now after the summer break.

Hands up now – anyone struggling to stay busy?

Didn’t think so. Staying busy isn’t a problem. There are always things to be getting on with, in both our personal and professional lives.

But just being busy at the coalface can be unsatisfying. Ever had the experience of a day filled to overflowing with emails and meetings, then walked out the office door and asked yourself ,“What the heck did I actually accomplish today?” Cue the sinking feeling that you weren’t focused on the right things, that your “return on energy invested” was low.

If your goal is just to stay busy, then you might want to stop reading now. Have a look at your email inbox. I’m sure there are some things there to keep you occupied.

If you’re still reading, then your goal is not just to do things, but to do the right things. You’d like to have the satisfaction, as you’re nodding off to sleep at night, that you focused your attention effectively today, that you struck the right balance, that everything in your life got the amount of energy from you that it needed and deserved.

Making sure you’re doing the right things is a question of perspective. We want to make sure that the actions we undertake are getting us somewhere. If we’re just focused on doing, we can’t be sure that’s true.

Try this – find an open space, like an empty car park or an open field. Pick a target to walk to on the other side of the space. Now start to walk toward the target, but only look at your feet as you go. Don’t look ahead, just focus of the toes of your shoes.

Take 20 steps or so, and then look up to check whether you’ve been making effective progress toward your target. I expect you’ll need to do some course correction, to change your direction of travel in order to get where you want to be.

If all you focus on is your feet, you can’t be sure you’re walking in the right direction to get where you want to go. And if at work all you focus on is doing, you can’t be sure you’re making progress toward the outcomes that are important for you.

So what tools do you have for ensuring you maintain perspective as you keep busy? How can you make sure that you’re not looking at your toes the whole time while you’re working?

In Getting Things Done, we recommend that you keep a list of all of the larger outcomes you want to achieve, be they personal or professional. “Hire a new assistant”, “get my son settled at university”, and “finalize 2015 budget” might all be examples of the things to track on such a list.

We call that a “Projects” list. It’s not a to-do list, because you can’t “do” a project. Finalize 2015 budget isn’t an action you can do. You can take steps toward that outcome – perhaps the next step might be to email Ian to set up a meeting to discuss the budget – but a project is something you achieve or realise over time, not something you can do.

The projects list is a great aid to perspective. Have a look at it once a week or so, or more often if you find it helpful, to make sure you’re not just looking at your shoes as you make your way through your day.

Developing and maintaining a projects list isn’t about doing, it’s about reflecting, deciding, and planning. And perhaps it’s because creating and maintaining a projects list involves so much deep thought that it can feel like hard work, like “heavy mental lifting.”

Which makes it all the more important that we celebrate success here too. Doing things feels good when we acknowledge successful completion – email sent – tick! Proposal finished – tick! So pat yourself on the back every time you add to or refine your projects list.

“I want to plan a fabulous Christmas break for me and my family.” Project defined – tick!

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