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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 working parents our to-do lists are never-ending and there can be so much satisfaction in checking-off to do’s, but we may be prioritizing urgent over important or easy over more complicated.

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

    You’ve got to see that you’re prioritizing urgent over important. It can be hard given busyness can make us feel productive. Ask yourself: Are you jumping to do the quick and easy work? Are emphasizing short deadline tasks over less pressing deadlines. Check yourself. How are you spending your day? Does it run out before you get to the important, but maybe harder to crack tasks?

  2. Schedule time, your most productive time, for the important

    Start by understanding when your mind is most productive. Mornings? Mondays? Figure out your when. Schedule time into your calendar. Research shows the act of scheduling your when and where dramatically increases your chances that the task will get done. Fiercely protect that time for the priority, maybe brainier work.

    Remember, schedule longer than you think it might take. It always does!

    Put away and silence distractions. Read here for wisdom on clutch and flow work.

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

    Sometimes we focus on the wrong things thinking that it’s what contributes to success. 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. Stay focused on those.



  1. Turn priority goals into clear outcomes (not activities!) with timeframes. An outcome is the measurable result that determines if you successfully accomplished the goal. Work back from the outcome to the activities to get there. By starting with the outcome in mind, we’re more likely to stay on task. And, from time to time, do the check: are your activities still steering you towards your outcomes.

    It’s always helpful to 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.

  2. Within your prioritized goal related tasks, zero in on those pieces that drive the most value. What pieces can be good enough? Can be delegated? Can be de-prioritized? What are the most valuable pieces that need the most attention? Filtering further within a priority helps to focus attention.

  3. Stay diligent: when we’re in doubt or stressed, we can stray back to urgent over important. 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.