To Get Things Done, Pretend You're Going on Vacation Next Week

In my experience most people feel the best about their job in the few days before they take a major holiday. I’m sure they attribute that good feeling to the fact that they’re thinking about and looking forward to where they’re going, and perhaps that they will be away from their work.

I suggest that there is a different source of the positive mental state. Sure, it’s nice to imagine having a good time and doing fun things, but consider for a moment what you are actually doing during the week before you intend to take off. Probably some version of capturing, clarifying, organizing, reviewing, and renegotiating your agreements and commitments, so that you can “clear the decks” psychologically. You want to be able to afford the luxury of nothing to think about when you’re on the first tee, strolling a warm beach, or taking your kids through a castle.

I simply suggest you do that process weekly, not yearly. A mind free of distraction should not be reserved for annual holidays – it’s a critical state for being able to give appropriate and full attention to anything.

The most important behavior for relaxed control of life and work seems to be what I have identified as the Weekly Review – a once-every-few-days version of those pre-vacation behaviors that are necessary for unhooking from your engagements. Sure, you need to be reviewing and catching up on a daily basis; and you need the longer-horizon looks for higher-altitude thinking (strategic planning, life coaching, etc.) But the level that is most often out of control for most professionals is the world of projects – those more-than-one-step things you’re committed to finish within the next few days, weeks, and months. Most people have between thirty and a hundred of these – from “get new tires” to “hire marketing VP” to “handle the staff off-site meeting.”

Taking time to identify new projects that have emerged in the last few days, to review the whole inventory and ensure that for each one appropriate progress is happening and the right actions are in play, is crucial for a sense of relaxed control. And that integrated reassessment won’t happen by itself in the course of day-to-day work. You must stop, hold the world at bay, and consciously focus on that horizon to achieve it. “Bringing up the rear guard” in this way for most of us takes from one to two hours a week, and it usually must be blocked out on your calendar if it’s not yet a habit. Creating a structure and systematic behavior for this slightly-elevated operational catch-up is the minimal dues to pay for a holiday-like experience all year long.

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