How do you know whether you’re getting the right things done at work? You might want to ask yourself what you’re leaving undone.
At ThriveGlobal, Jessica Hicks identifies three workplace habits to avoid if you want to remain productive and maintain a good work-life balance, and one of those workplace bad habits is pushing yourself to finish every task on your list, every single day:
When the end of the day rolls around, you might feel disheartened if you haven’t accomplished everything you wanted to get done. While you might initially feel frustrated, having an unfinished task or two could actually be a sign that you’re successfully prioritising throughout your day. Maybe you were unable to schedule a meeting, but you completed an important report that’s due the next day — in this case, you were able to get through your most pressing assignment and can schedule the meeting the next day, when you are re-energised and have a new set of priorities.
By becoming comfortable with “incompletions,” as Hicks puts it, you’ll get a better understanding of both your priorities (the tasks you complete, no matter what) and your skillsets (the tasks you naturally gravitate towards and/or avoid or procrastinate on).
In other words: if you spent most of the day working towards a big deliverable but failed to file your expense reports, you’ve probably got your priorities straight. Those expense reports will have to get filed at some point—the standard advice is to set aside a chunk of time every week or every two weeks specifically for that kind of administrative work—but you successfully avoided letting them interrupt your most important tasks.
On the other hand, if you find yourself spending all day on the low-priority stuff and avoiding the projects that comprise the bulk of your job, it’s worth figuring out why you’re not prioritising your most important work.
Maybe you’re not clear on the next step of your project, for example. Maybe you’re part of an inefficient or demotivating team, or maybe you know that completing your project means a lengthy critique session with a manager you don’t care for.
Maybe you have other stresses in your life that are making it difficult to focus on anything more complicated than checking your email. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep or sunlight or social activity.
Maybe your workday is so interspersed with meetings and check-ins that you don’t have enough time to give your project the deep focus it needs.
But maybe you’re simply putting off the tasks you enjoy least. Some of us love filing expense reports but hate writing quarterly reports. We might like to organise rather than generate, complete dozens of small assignments instead of one large project, or work in groups instead of on our own.
If you consistently find yourself avoiding the bulk of your work—the stuff they literally hired you to complete—while prioritising other aspects of your job that are more fulfilling, it might be a sign that you’re in the wrong position and should start looking for a job that’s a better fit.
So take a look at what you’re leaving unfinished at the end of a typical workday. If it’s the low-priority work, you might be a better employee than you realise. If it’s the high-priority stuff, it might be time to find a job where you can spend your days doing the work in which you excel—whether that’s doing similar work for a company that provides the kind of structure you need to complete it, or a job that lets you focus on the work you naturally prioritise.