Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dorie Clark for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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I recently got back from a month’s vacation — the longest I’ve ever taken, and a shocking indulgence for an American. (Earlier this summer, I was still fretting about how to pull off two weeks unplugged.) The distance, though, helped me hone in on what’s actually important to my professional career — and which make-work activities merely provide the illusion of progress. Inspired by HBR blogger Peter Bregman’s idea of creating a “to ignore” list, here are [three of five of ] activities I’m going to stop cold turkey in 2012 — and perhaps you should, too.
1. Responding Like a Trained Monkey
Every productivity expert in the world will tell you to check email at periodic intervals — say, every 90 minutes — rather than clicking “refresh” like a Pavlovian mutt. Of course, almost no one listens, because studies have shown email’s “variable interval reinforcement schedule” is basically a slot machine for your brain. But spending a month away — and only checking email weekly — showed me how little really requires immediate response. In fact, nothing. A 90 minute wait won’t kill anyone, and will allow you to accomplish something substantive during your workday.
2. Mindless Traditions.
I recently invited a friend to a prime networking event. “Can I play it by ear?” she asked. “This is my last weekend to get holiday cards out and I haven’t mailed a single one. It is causing stress!” In the moment, not fulfilling an “obligation” (like sending holiday cards) can make you feel guilty. But if you’re in search of professional advancement, is a holiday card (buried among the deluge) going to make a difference? If you want to connect, do something unusual — get in touch at a different time of year, or give your contacts a personal call, or even better, meet up face-to-face. You have to ask if your business traditions are generating the results you want.
3. Reading Annoying Things.
I have nearly a dozen newspaper and magazine subscriptions, the result of alluring specials ($10 for an entire year!) and the compulsion not to miss out on crucial information. But after detoxing for a month, I was able to reflect on which publications actually refreshed me — and which felt like a duty. The New Yorker, even though it’s not a business publication, broadens my perspective and is a genuine pleasure to read. The pretentious tech publication with crazy layouts and too-small print? Not so much. I’m weeding out and paring down to literary essentials. What subscriptions can you get rid of?
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Eliminating these five activities is likely to save me hundreds of hours next year — time I can spend expanding my business and doing things that matter. What are you going to stop doing? And how are you going to leverage all that extra time?
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. She is the author of the forthcoming What’s Next?: The Art of Reinventing Your Personal Brand (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). You can follow her on Twitter at @dorieclark.
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