Is the Extra Mile a Waste of Time?

time management extra mileWe grow up hearing that we don’t get far in life without going the extra mile. That going above and beyond the call of duty is the way to be noticed, get ahead, and stand out, but is it really the best use of our time? This week I read an article called “Nobody Cares How Awesome You Are at Your Job” that made me re-think the assumption that exceeding expectations is always best. Here is what I discovered…

My Initial Reaction

In this article, the author cites a study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal that found people are disappointed when expectations aren’t met, but aren’t necessarily impressed when they are exceeded. The researcher makes a comparison to Amazon shipping- that if you order something with 4 day shipping and it arrives in 5, you’re upset, but if it arrives in 3, you aren’t impressed.

At first I was angry with this article. I thought the take-away message was that we should all strive for mediocrity, never try hard, and skate by on doing the least amount of work possible. But then I thought more about it.

Re-thinking Mediocrity

Since when is fulfilling a promise mediocre? Since when is doing exactly what you say you’re going to do not good enough? Perhaps it’s this kind of “above and beyond” thinking that creates an unrealistic super hero mentality. That we are all capable of doing absolutely everything, and if we don’t, we’re letting people down. Perhaps it’s wonderful that we aren’t overly impressed with over-delivered promises, because simply fulfilling an expectation should be good enough.

This super hero mentality also causes us to let some people down while we’re trying to overly impress others. We only have so much energy and so much time in the day, so if you’re spending more time than you should on one task, you’re probably not putting the necessary time into your other obligations. The people you’re letting down don’t really care that you over-delivered to someone else. Perhaps it’s best to make sure all of your obligations are met before trying to exceed any of them.

It Still Has a Place

Finally, I do believe that there is still a place for the extra mile. I like to go above and beyond for my friends when I know they aren’t expecting it, or when I’m particularly passionate about a project. However, when the “extra mile” becomes something we expect of ourselves all the time, it isn’t really an “extra” anymore. You’ve just made the journey longer.

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The Question You’re Not Asking About Your To-Do List

Time Management To Do List QuestionWhen prioritizing our to-do lists for the day, we often ask ourselves questions like, “What is the most important?” “What is the most urgent?” “What is my number one priority?” These are all valid questions, but a question we don’t ask enough is:

Which task will have the most noticeable impact?

Here are two reasons this question is essential to planning your day:

1. We Can’t Do Everything

When we get extremely busy, we start to wonder how in the world we’re going to finish everything on our lists, but we fail to accept that maybe everything on the list doesn’t need to be finished. In that case, you’ll need to search for the tasks on your list that provide the most bang for your buck.

Think of it like cleaning a house. Washing the dishes in your sink and cleaning your upstairs bathroom are both important tasks, but if company is coming for dinner in 30 minutes and you only have time for one, which one would you choose? I’m guessing your guests will spend more time in your kitchen than your master bathroom. Use the same line of thinking when it comes to other tasks in your day. If I accept that I can’t do everything, which task is most noticeable and has the biggest impact?

2. We Need Motivation

We’re motivated by success. When we labor away and see no results from our work, it’s difficult to stay motivated. That’s why choosing tasks with a noticeable impact can help keep a dreaded project moving along. Dealing with the stack of papers on your desk might not be the most essential part of a project you’re working on, but if it will keep you motivated to finally be able to file them away, then they might be worthy of your prioritization.

Aiming for maximum impact in your tasks can help streamline your to-do list. You might be so pleased with the results, that you’ll realize the other tasks weren’t really necessary anyway.

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Why 2pm is The Worst Time of Day

Time Management AfternoonIf you, like me, suffer from a mid-afternoon productivity slump, then you’ll appreciate this. (It should be noted that the following verse was written between the hours of 2 and 3pm)

Ode to 2:00

Oh 2:00 I hate you so
The worst time of the day
I get a bunch of nothing done
Much to my dismay

At 9 I’m full of energy
My to-do list is a snap
But once the clock strikes 2 o’clock
I’m poised to take a nap

I stagger to the coffee pot
And blearily rub my eyes
I watch the clock tick slowly past
The number I despise

Perhaps I overate at lunch
That soup and BLT
I know I’ll get my second wind
If I just wait till 3

Then after dark I’ll sit in bed
Wide awake again
Oh why can’t this 2:00 feeling
Come at 10 pm?

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Three Ways to Make Life Transitions Even Harder

Time management rough roadHave you ever driven on a paved mountain road only to turn left and suddenly be on a bumpy gravel path? Do you drive the same way? Or do you quickly adjust your speed and attention to the new driving conditions? Unfortunately, we aren’t always so quick to adjust to life transitions. Here are three ways we make our life transitions harder than they need to be:

1. Refuse to Accept Change

Sometimes when our daily routine is modified, we spend the first few days (weeks, months, years) refusing to belief that anything is different. We either fight the change, complain about it, grumble about how good it “used to be,” or some combination of the three. This not only wastes our time, but it causes undue frustration and stress.

2. Try to Solve New Problems with the Same Solutions

Once we realize things have changed, we must also realize that the way we approach problems will need to change too. What used to work might not work anymore. It’s like trying to nail a picture to the wall using a sledgehammer. Reach into your toolbox and look for something different.

3. Don’t Seek Help

No matter how strange your new situation may seem- whether it’s a new job, new family arrangement, new schedule, or new location- you’re not the first person to go through this transition. Why reinvent the wheel when so many others have gone before you? Reach out to other people who have made a similar transition and ask how they handled it.

If you’re a long time Time Diet reader, you know I’m going through my fair share of transitions right now (finishing the PhD, baby on the way, etc…) That’s why I love this blog. It’s a way we can all support each other.

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How Night Owls Can Work With Morning People

Time Management Morning PersonTime management is difficult enough when we’re just keeping track of ourselves. When you have two or more people collaborating on a project together, planning can seem next to impossible. That’s because each person has an individual working style that may or may not match with the others on the team.  Here are the three most common working style conflicts that come up between collaborators and how to address them.

The Night Owl and the Morning Person

You’re ready to go first thing in the morning. Your collaborator needs 6 cups of coffee to get the day started and prefers to stay after hours when he’s most productive. You each think the other simply needs to “will themselves” to do their best work at the “right” time of day.

The first step to overcoming the night/morning disparity is recognizing that you each work differently and that’s OK. There is no magic rule stating that everyone must reach their optimal productivity zone at the same time. Then, try to find a way to work independently as much as possible. Meet together at a time mid-day, and then complete independent work whenever works best for you.

Priority A and Priority B

When two team members fight, sometimes it’s because their priorities weren’t lined up from the beginning. Team member A might view team member B as a lazy slacker who isn’t pulling his weight, when in reality, team member B is just devoting time to the tasks he feels are most important.

At the beginning of a project, be sure to make everyone’s goals and priorities clear so that everyone begins on the same page and is working toward the same thing. Be sure to listen to each other and be aware that others may bring a different set of experiences to the table that justify different goals and priorities.

Details vs. Big Picture

Another common reason that collaboration breaks down is when one person is focused on the details, the other person is focused on the big picture, and neither one realizes the difference. The Big Picture person will view the Detail person as wasting time on frivolous tasks, while the Detail person will view the Big Picture person as lazy and in danger of letting things slip through the cracks.

Recognize these differences and embrace them. Instead of changing your expectations for the other person, use your knowledge of your skills to better divide the workload. Let the Big Picture person take care of tasks related to the more broad vision, and the Detail person can take care of nitty gritty tasks the other person doesn’t care about.

The most important step in all three of these situations is recognizing that people work differently and there is no one “right” way we should demand of everyone!

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When the Malaysian Plane is Found, I Can Stop Watching The News

Malaysia.airlinesI usually have a fairly healthy relationship with current events. I read enough to stay informed, but not so much as to become entrenched in the 24-hour news cycle. However, every so often an event comes along that strikes a chord with me and I become obsessed. This week I found that concern and worry about a current event can quickly turn into a consuming problem that affects day-to-day work and peace of mind. I’d like to share the strategies I used to tune it out.

A Shocking Story

When news of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 first broke last weekend, I was shocked, worried, saddened and frustrated. As somebody who struggles with worrying, and had to overcome a dislike of flying to be a traveling speaker, I have spent countless hours convincing myself that air travel is not something to worry about. “It’s safer than driving a car. Planes are inspected every day. They are designed to keep gliding even after engine failure.”

Now that this plane had gone completely missing, I just couldn’t accept that there were no answers. “What happened to all those people? What about their families? Will they get answers? I have a computer that fits in my pocket, a car that senses rain water, but we can’t find a giant airplane?”

My New Obsession

I dealt with this frustration and sadness by reading news articles, EVERY news article that came out. I checked Twitter constantly, I read the USA Today blog updates every few hours. I even read conspiracy theories, wild hypotheses, and crazy speculation. I found myself interrupting my work to check these “updates.” Then I realized three things:

1. There is always something new to read

When our only source of news was newspapers, there was a finite end to the day’s current events. Now, we have the ability to keep reading forever. There will always be a new perspective, new article, or the same article with a new headline. At some point, you just have to stop.

2. Speculation hides as information

When there is no new news to report, people still have to write about something so they speculate. They write about facts that probably don’t really matter, but it fills up a page (er…screen). While I first felt more informed because of my news obsession, I quickly realized I had just spent more time on the internet.

3. News makes distraction seem OK

At first I didn’t feel guilty for allowing myself to be distracted by these stories. This is important! I told myself. Then, I realized that I was just making excuses for my lack of focus. The news had become my new Time Killer, and it needed to stop. I wasn’t doing anything to help and my worry was getting the best of me.

I have decided that I’m no longer going to check on this story every hour. What is your Time Killer you need to let go of this week?

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Must Focus, Must Focus…Oh Look, Something Shiny!

Time Management Excited PuppyDo you manage your time like a hyper puppy? You know the feeling. You have a great idea, a sudden surge of inspiration and throw yourself full throttle into a task…until you get distracted by something shiny in a different direction and abruptly change course. Then it happens again. And again. Pretty soon your week is over and you have a bunch of half-completed projects, you’re exhausted, and feel you’ve achieved nothing. Let’s examine this phenomenon…

First of all, don’t be so hard on yourself. There are some definite up sides to the “shiny object” approach.

The Upside: You get things started. Sometimes half the time management battle is finding the motivation to begin a task. If you find a sudden surge of inspiration to begin, you definitely don’t have that problem! You’ve gotten further than the people who let a task linger on their, list making excuses about why they simply must wait for “later” or “someday.”

The Downside: You never finish. When we jump quickly from one task to the next with no focus, we lose all the benefits we gained with our quick and motivated beginning. Instead of capitalizing on that motivation and pushing through to the finish, we let it go.

I’ll admit that starting a project is exponentially more exciting than finishing one. (The three half-written book projects I have on my hard drive right now are proof positive of that statement, though I think I’ve finally settled on one I like.) The trick is to keep in touch with that initial excitement as you drive toward the finish line.

Defining your focus can help keep you on track. Too much planning in the beginning can restrict a great idea, or cause a bad case of “analysis paralysis” which means you never really start. However, as you get further into your project, it’s important to start narrowing down where you see it going and define some goals.

Finishing a project becomes much easier once you can define where a finish line actually is.

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3 Benefits Gained From Backing Away

Time Management Do Not DisturbWhen we’re committed to finishing an important task by a deadline, working non-stop seems like the responsible option, but it isn’t always the most productive. This week, I took a whole 7 days off from my dissertation. I couldn’t look at it anymore. The words were starting to blur together and I was not making the progress that needed to happen.

Coming back to it after the hiatus has been a wonderful experience. Here is what we can all gain from backing away from a task for a while.

1. Excitement

It’s much easier to work on a project when we’re excited and motivated to do so. Unfortunately, we quickly lose that motivation when we allow ourselves to burn out. If you’re concerned that backing away from a task will cause your progress to slow, consider the time you’ll gain in the long run from your ability to work faster when you start back up again with renewed motivation from the time away.

2. Perspective

If you’re stuck in a rut with a project, stepping away can allow your perspective to shift as you suddenly see things differently and come up with new ideas. Creativity research suggests that time away is a critical step in achieving an “a ha!” moment of creative brilliance. It’s why some of our best ideas happen in the shower, or just as we’re about to fall asleep.

3. Mistakes

Time away allows us to see mistakes we may have missed before. When we’re too close to a project, we start to gloss over mistakes and only see what we want to see. Don’t allow your proximity to a task to interfere with your ability to look at it objectively.

Time away doesn’t always seem like the best option, but I was so glad I stepped back this week. What can you step back from that will help your long term productivity?

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When Getting Sick Isn’t In Your Schedule

Time Management when sickThis week I decided it would be a good time to get sick. I carefully planned for it in my schedule so that no plans would be disrupted and everything would still be accomplished….

Right. Because that happens. Sick never comes at a time that would be “convenient,” it happens right in the middle of a hectic day when you just don’t need one more thing to go wrong. Here are three tips to deal with your to-do list when your health just isn’t happening.

1. Pick What You Won’t Do

When we get sick we have to accept that try as we might, we simply won’t be able to do everything we hoped for. We then have a choice. We can pick which tasks we will let go so we can focus on having energy to do the important ones, or we can allow the illness to decide for us.

I made the mistake of trying to do everything starting with the first appointment on my calendar, even though the events later in the day were more important. By 3:00, the illness decided I was done being productive. Oh how I wish I had rested in the morning so I would have had a tiny bit of energy for later.

2. Ask For Help

We never want to be “that person” that is a burden on our colleagues, but I assure you, unless you’re calling out every week, your co-workers would rather pick up a tiny bit of extra slack for you than have you come in and contaminate the whole work space.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it. Have you ever said “no” to a sick colleague? Exactly.

3. Acknowledge it Early

Sometimes we try to ignore sickness and “power through it” hoping if we don’t acknowledge the obvious, it will somehow go away. Recognize the early signs of sickness and start taking better care of yourself right away.

We like to think that we can wish away a cold or a stomach bug by simply never taking our nose away from the grindstone, but it’s far better to take a step back now than be stuck in bed later.

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How To Live in The Moment

Time Management in the momentLet me start by saying I find the title of this blog to be extremely obnoxious. We talk about “living in the moment” as though there is some magical state of being in which we soak every ounce of meaning and appreciation out of each minute of each day.

Big announcement – my husband and I are expecting our first child in June. When people find out, they always offer a hearty congratulations followed by something to the effect of  “Better enjoy that sleep while you can!” or “Appreciate every moment! It won’t last.

While I enjoy the sentiment and I don’t doubt its truthfulness, the pressure to “appreciate harder!” during this pregnancy is getting a little insane.

Needless to say, I’ve given a lot of thought recently to “living in the moment” and have found these three tips to be helpful:

1. Engage Fully

We feel so pressured to do multiple tasks at a time, but I’ve found that fully engaging with whatever it is I’m doing has helped me appreciate the “little things.” For example, when you sit down to eat lunch, don’t feel the need to be also scrolling through your email or catching up on the news. It’s been helpful for me to devote my whole self to doing an enjoyable or relaxing task for a shorter period of time than to try to split my attention.

2. Avoid the Count Down

Do you ever feel like you live from one big milestone to the next? I began feeling like I was living from one countdown to another. “I just have to get through the holidays” then “I just have to get through to the Spring” etc…When we get into this linear way of thinking, we forget to look around and enjoy what’s happening now. One of my favorite quotes is “Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain” and I try to think about that daily.

3. Practice Daily Reflection

I’ve tried to devote a minute or two before I go to bed to thinking through the events of the day. Not by re-hashing the problems that occurred, or second-guessing my actions and decisions, but by finding the happiness and the joy in what happened. It’s hard, and sometimes I don’t want to find the time to make happen, but it’s worth it in the end.

Finally, let’s not put so much pressure on ourselves to live each and every moment to the fullest. Once I stepped back and stopped trying to “appreciate harder,” I was free to enjoy the small things while looking forward to all the new experiences still to come.


Time Management for College SurvivalGraduation is around the corner! For a limited time, sign up for my online class “Time Management for College Survival” for 20% off. Either purchase for yourself, or purchase for your favorite student. Lifetime access to 9 lecture, helpful worksheets, and advice that WORKS. Use this link and enter code “TIMEDIET20” at checkout. This is only for the first 20 people and only for a limited time so sign up today!



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