Why do people complain that there's no time to get their work done?

Many times clients express frustration that they "can't get any of their work done" because of the overwhelming amount of interruptions, e-mail and other input that show up during the course of a normal day. If you're ever in that frustrated state, it might help to understand the three-fold nature of what constitutes your "work."

You Are Doing Three Things When You Work:
1. Doing Predefined Work
This is what you would be doing all day if you got no input or interruptions of any sort. You would probably be working off the inventory of actions and projects that you came in with – work that you've already determined needs doing. The phone calls you need to make, the documents you need to draft, the ideas you need to outline on the project, etc.

2. Doing Work As It Appears
The phone rings, you take the call and spend twenty minutes talking to a customer or a business colleague. Your boss calls a half-hour meeting to update you on a new development and get your input on it. You're doing the work as it shows up to be done. You're actually defining your work rapidly in this case, and choosing to do the new stuff instead of any of the predetermined activities.

3. Defining Work to Be Done
This is processing your in-basket, your e-mail, your meeting notes, etc. – taking in input and making decisions about what needs to be done about it. You may do some quick actions as you define them, and you'll probably be adding some more to your inventory of defined work.

So what? (All this is common sense.) Well, I've noticed that many people act as if 2) is some sort of burden to endure and 3) is some irrelevant activity aside from their work. I don't get it. It's all work. Some is done when it appears, and some is done when you choose to do it instead of what's showing up. And processing input is required to trust the inventory of predefined work.

How much of which kind of work to do and when is the eternal dance of the workday. You can't really do more than one of them at a time, though you can get really fast with processing work while you're on hold or waiting for meetings to start. There may be interruptions that are allowed that aren't functional or valuable, but managing those is just tactical to your definition of your job. It's an eternal challenge of allocating limited resources – it's not an inherent problem.

Get used to it.

About David Allen
David Allen, president of David Allen & Co., has spent more than twenty years researching and implementing high performance methodologies in personal and organizational productivity. He has been labeled by Fast Company magazine as "one of the world's leading thinkers" in this arena. Mr. Allen's new book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, has been on the Business Week business title best-seller list for three months running.

A consultant, coach, educator and motivational speaker, Mr. Allen has conducted workshops in performance enhancement for more than 250,000 professionals, delivering management and productivity programs for such diverse organizations as Microsoft, Lockheed, L.L. Bean, New York Life, QVC, Massachusetts General Hospital and the U.S. Navy. He has spent thousands of hours coaching individual managers and executives and implementing customized personal organizational systems within the context of company strategies.

© 2001 David Allen & Company.

1. Source: "It's About Time", Winter 2000 www.davidco.com

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