I recently read Steve McClatchy’s book, Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Stress, and Lead by Example. The timing of this book in my own life could not have been better. As an account executive for two non-profit associations, a wife, and mother to three boys, I’ve been contemplating the daily struggle of feeling as though my life is one big to-do list with no end in sight.
I’m sure others can relate to that overwhelming feeling of not being able to get everything done and worse yet, being bogged down by the grind of every-day tasks leaving little time for innovation, strategic thinking and making real gains toward important goals. The stress of wading through tasks and demanding workloads can easily leave us feeling burned out and lacking the fulfillment of living our best lives both professionally and personally.
In the book, Steve outlines a new way of decision making that can help us prioritize in a more meaningful and productive way. He challenges us to ask ourselves, “What decisions or pursuits produce significant results in our lives – and are we giving them enough time and attention?”
He helps us understand that there are two types of tasks: Gain tasks and Prevent Pain tasks. Gain tasks are those that move us toward something we want and desire for our lives (professionally and personally). Prevent Pain tasks are those tasks that we must do to maintain what we have and/or avoid negative consequences.
Gain tasks are the things that are never urgent, don’t have to be completed and can’t be delegated to anyone else – but they are the tasks that produce the most significant results.
So, you may be thinking: how do I make time for Gain tasks when there are only 24 hours in the day, and I’m already overwhelmed? This is where delegation is so critical. As the book outlines, “If you’re spending your time completing Prevent Pain tasks that someone else could complete, you’re missing out on chances to advance your business, relationships, or life.” Delegation is a key strategic skill that provides you with the time to move things forward.
We all talk about the golden unicorn of work-life balance. Does it even really exist? In the book, Steve proposes that a feeling of balance is possible when you have done what you had to do to maintain life plus you have done something you didn’t have to do to move your life forward a little each day. He highlights a new way of prioritizing tasks to help build Gain tasks into our everyday lives for that sense of balance and fulfillment.
Steve suggests categorizing and prioritizing tasks based on the results produced.
Priority A = Gain Task
(focused on goals, leadership & improvement)
Priority B = Recorded Prevent Pain Task
(important maintenance task that someone holds you accountable for)
Priority C = Prevent Pain Task
(maintenance task that no one is keeping track of, but must be done)
So, what can we all do today, to help achieve balance and a sense that we’re moving forward toward more meaningful goals and leadership?
- Review your Prevent Pain tasks and consider delegating more of those to others who can do them for you. (My kids come to mind for cleaning the house and doing the laundry!)
- Incorporate a few Gain Tasks into your daily to-do list. Purposefully add those tasks to your list and dedicate time on your calendar for those activities that will help move your organization or life forward. (Yes, I will be taking that new Yoga class on the weekends because it makes me feel good and improves my health!)
- Prioritize a Gain Task first. Prevent Pain tasks are never done – they make up the perpetual to-do list of everyday living. If we always try to finish our Prevent Pain tasks first before we pursue Gain, then Gain will never happen. Make sure that a Gain task is at the top of the list. (I will be taking that Yoga class before I worry about getting my weekend grocery shopping done!)
Steve McClatchy’s book Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Stress, and Lead by Example is full of strategies and ideas for prioritizing for Gains. It’s a great read for anyone who is looking to get control and gain that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that comes from achieving meaningful goals professionally and personally.
Are you dedicating the time to strategically move forward, or do you feel like you’re running in place just keeping up with the Prevent Pain tasks of the day to day? Try incorporating this new approach for prioritizing and decision making. You may find yourself feeling more fulfilled and less stressed out when you focus on the Gains!