Everyone I know works really hard. Some argue we work too hard. But what if I told you much of your work is wasted. How would you feel? Would you believe me? The problem is it’s easy to get sucked into doing work, losing sight of why we are doing it. I sometimes do this with my to do list. It always seems to stay full, in spite of my daily focus to get things done. When I focus on getting things done, I lose sight of why I am doing them. The bigger question is should I be doing them?
The heart of the issue is lack of focus on our goals. When we aren’t clear on where we are going, any path will do. This is the same as measuring success on doing work. It feels satisfying getting things done and nobody can criticize us if we are working hard. My philosophy has shifted in recent years from measuring success as working hard, to doing the absolute minimum amount of work to achieve the best outcome. How do we do this?
Do the minimum amount of work to achieve the best possible outcome
The answer is goal clarity. You’ve probably heard of SMART goals and while this is important, it’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about knowing where you are going. That starts with a clear tangible vision. A vision is a future state, often 2-3 years in the future. Most vision statements I read are very ambiguous, ‘we will be the best…..’. That may sound inspiring, but if we don’t know what ‘done’ looks like, how will we know if the work we are doing is making a difference? All we can do is more work.
If we have a clear measurable vision, we need to know if we are on track to achieve it. This is where annual goals come in. They chart our medium term progress to achieving our vision. Is all the work we are doing actually moving us closer to our ultimate goal(s)? If not, we need to stop and change what we are doing. The same is true for short term quarterly goals, or objectives as I call them. They help us assess if the work we are doing day by day is making a difference.
The bottom line
Is the work I am doing helping me achieve my goals or is it wasted effort? When was the last time you stepped back and assessed the impact of the work you are doing? Is it helping you achieve your goals or are you just working hard?