getting to it

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What You Want: To have more free time and less stress.

What to Try: Make a paid-to-do list.

Step 1: Make a list of everything you do at work, write corporate trainers Jones Loflin and Todd Musig, who train Fortune 500 companies in time management and work-life balance. (If you are the director of a candy factory, for example, you might write down: monitor chocolate and butterscotch makers, advise the wrapping designer, plan factory expansion, make sure the tasters don't taste too enthusiastically). As the two describe in Getting to It: Accomplishing the Important, Handling the Urgent, and Removing the Unnecessary, their clients typically start the list with their current workload, then mention other upcoming activities, then lastly remember "all the smaller tasks that dot their plates like peas." After listening to their clients' frustrations for a short while, Loflin and Musig then ask them, "What are you paid to do?" In that moment, the clients usually realize how much of their day is spent on problems they inherited, tasks no one else wants to (or can) do and putting out minor (but avoidable) fireballs.

Step 2: "Dust off your job description," the two write, "and review your most recent evaluation." Make another list of the four or five things you're paid to do. If you give those your full attention, your performance on other to-dos may not matter as much. You'll do better at what your boss needs you most for. P.S. "This strategy," the two write, "also applies to the other roles in your life. What are the three or four things you can do as a parent, neighbor, volunteer, baseball coach, Sunday-school teacher, gardener, son-in-law, dancer, and so on, that make the greatest impact? Three or four key things are doable. Ten or 12 can be overwhelming."