Getting the Right Things Done

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I’m in the process of reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. One of the main threads in the book is “Know Thy Time.” The point is simple—effective individuals understand where their time is going. More importantly, they understand where their time should be going and work to reconcile the delta between the two.

As I was reading the chapter, I realized I was doing well at the first part; I knew roughly where I was spending my time. I use Todoist to track tasks, a paper notebook for staying on top of appointments, and RescueTime to automatically log how long I spend on various apps/websites on my computer.

How do you take that next step though? How do you actually do anything with that information?

A quick personal anecdote—when I first took on the lead role at Automattic, there was a natural shift in my work. I went from working directly with customers every day to leading a team of Happiness Engineers. Instead of working 1-1 with customers, I was working 1-1 with my teammates to help them level up. I was involved in more goal setting discussions both for individuals and for our entire department. At least that’s what I was supposed to be doing.

What did I do instead? I sprinkled in a bit of new lead work while simultaneously trying to keep up with my previous customer interaction load. It took me a few months to realize I was doing a crappy job at both. My responsibilities had changed, but my daily actions didn’t adjust as a result.

We regularly ask the question “Where is my time going?” How often do we ask “What should my time be spent on?”

Probably more often.

My fellow Automattician Brie reinforced this recently during her Developing Leadership talk. After touching on some various productivity tools and time trackers, she emphasized that the real utility comes in going back and asking yourself: Am I spending my time on the right things?

I’m trying to ask myself that question more and more. Each week, I do a quick mental review—what I accomplished, where I fell short, etc. Under the umbrella of “Am I spending my time on the right things?” I’m adding these three questions from Drucker:

What would happen if this were not done at all? And if the answer is, “Nothing would happen,” then obviously the conclusion is to stop doing it.

Which of the activities on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?

What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness? [Question for 1-on-1]

This process also hinges on the idea of “the right things”—having an idea of where your time is best spent. My definition balances several variables. Namely, what you enjoy doing, what you’re the best at, and what the company benefits from (what you were hired to do):

A venn diagram for getting the right things done
Magic occurs in the middle.

Sidecar: Occasionally, you might work in an area where only two circles overlap. The major danger area is where only “I’m the best at…” and “I enjoy doing…” overlap. If you’re spending the majority of your time in that area, there’s likely a problem.


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