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Why Putting Your Head Down and Doing The Work Doesn’t Work

It’s human nature: when we’re under intense time pressure, we often get to work, put our head down and do the work that’s in front of us. This isn’t pushing your agenda. 

In fact, you may not be focusing on the priorities that matter to the business, that get you noticed, that drive success in you role. And, it can lead to frustration because a) others are getting recognized and/or promoted, yet you feel you’re working harder, b) you’re getting burnt out and not feeling like you’re advancing on “the big stuff” and/or c) you may sense a general feeling of “not being as successful as I was.”


Blame it on Hyperbolic Discounting. We’re wired to focus on what’s right in front of us instead of taking a long-term view.  Humans will constantly choose rewards in the short-term, the quick win, instead of focusing on what it takes to achieve bigger rewards in the long term. And let’s face it, as parents, and in the culture that surrounds us, there’s an emphasis on “do.”

People who get rewarded are those who stay relentlessly focused on a few big goals and have a single-minded determination to get them done. Heather B.

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Create awareness around your own behavior

    Are you jumping to do the quick and easy work? Are you focusing on the urgent, but not important? Check yourself. How are you spending your day? Does it run out before you get to the important, but maybe harder to crack tasks? It’s especially helpful to know when your mind is most productive and fiercely protect that time for the priority, maybe brainier work.

  2. Get clear on what are the priority goals that you need to accomplish that will truly constitute success in your role

    Ask yourself: What really gets rewarded in your organization? What has your boss defined as the things you have to accomplish to be successful in your role? To get promoted? There should be no more than 2 or 3 things.

  3. Turn these priority goals into clear outcomes (not activities!) with timeframes

    An outcome is the measurable result that determines if you successfully accomplished the goal. Define progress measures that you can check against to confirm that you’re on track. Then do a last check with your manager and confirm that these priority outcomes are what really matters to your success. Get her/his buy-in. Consider if there are other stakeholders that matter and check for alignment.


  1. It’s helpful to think of what success looks like in timeframes. For example, the business has to be stronger when you leave it than when you started. Therefore, consider what you need to get done by the time you complete the assignment. Back up from there, translating that into what that would mean in one year, six months, etc.

  2. Sometimes, in fact often, people focus on the SMART goals they defined in their performance review tool. These may be helpful but be careful – they don’t always directly align with what really defines success in a role. And, there are often too many. Stay focused on the 2 – 3 things that will advance YOU.

  3. Keep in mind: when we’re in doubt or stressed, we can focus too much on clearing our to-do lists. That leads to an activity versus an outcome focus. It feels good because you’re getting a bunch of stuff done, but you’re probably doing few meaningful things well. You’ll  risk undermining your potential if the to-do list is your focus.


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The Sophia Project is our corporate program that unleashes working parent talent through Intentional Subtraction.