The Super Hero Vampire, and Why You Can NOT Do it All
I love my work. So much so, that I have a bad habit of taking on more than I should. I know that I only have about 10 work hours to accomplish what I need to do every day. It never fails, though, that I take on just one more client, volunteer to write another article, or decide to lead a team project.
You don’t have to be a super hero to to be productive!
And then I get angry.
Why? Because although my calendar reflects my varied gifts and obligations (ha!), the reality is that I when I take on too much, I’m not nearly as focused, and mistakes are made. Deadlines are missed, and team or family members may be disappointed. Sure enough, those extra tasks and projects that I swore I couldn’t forego indeed are left by the wayside. So why did I start this mess in the first place?
Wait, is that Helen?! No, it’s just the Super-Hero Vampire.
The Super-Hero Vampire is the belief that you have to take on more than necessary to be productive. It’s the nagging little voice that tells you to do just one more thing, to take on more than you can possibly handle, to stay ahead of the game. Alarms are constantly going off in your head about upcoming deadlines, and suddenly the Super Hero Vampire shakes up your priorities. Suddenly, EVERYTHING is a priority, and has to be done NOW, and only by YOU.
First, remember that to be consistently productive and efficient, you have to prioritize and use your time accordingly. When this is not done, your work doesn’t have a clear purpose or end goal. Instead of focusing on key projects and tasks, you try to do it all, all at once.
Secondly, tackling every project as if it’s an emergency that can only be solved by you robs your team members, assistants, and family members of the experience of handling tasks either with you or on their own. You may be great at what you do, but sometimes building and maintaining a strong team is more important than your individual skills. You can be great and still be a team player. Your team can’t become stronger if they never handle projects or emergencies.
Finally, approaching your work this way is terribly exhausting! There is no end in sight, and living life as a super-hero can be like living on an endless carousel that doesn’t end. You may find yourself jumping from project to project, sometimes without completing them. Or worse, you may complete them, but the projects may not be done to your satisfaction.
If you’ve been bitten by the Super Hero Vampire, there’s still hope for you. Remind yourself that you are one person, and that you can’t take on the world alone. Even Superman has the Justice League! Remember to prioritize what truly is important – not just in general, but daily, so you know where to spend your time, and what to pass on altogether. Being constantly aware of what is important to you, and what is not, is a key way to stay focused. Finally, track your time. You may not feel that you’ve been bitten by the Super Hero Vampire, but if you’re constantly jumping in to extra projects to save the day, you may have been sabotaged. Knowing how you spend your time, and why, will help you identify the cause.
Don’t get me wrong: I love it when entrepreneurs feel confident enough to call themselves “super heroes”. I want every business owner to feel confident and strong in their abilities. Thinking of yourself as a super hero is great for the ego, but it can be dangerous for your work.
Part I: Where DOES your time go?
A Time Vampire is simply a mindset that keeps you from using your time wisely. They may seem harmless enough, and often mask themselves in terms that make you believe you are really doing yourself a favor, like “hyper-productive”, “super-busy”, and “unstoppable”. And while I love the confidence that these self descriptions may inspire, (because don’t we all need to be productive?), the reality is that we 1) can’t be everywhere at once, and 2) we can’t do everything at once. Taking on too many projects, for example, can lead to burnout and fatigue. Time, like our energy and health, is finite.
And that’s why we’re so frustrated. It often feels like “everyone else” is getting so much more done, while we’re spinning our wheels. Intellectually, we know that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but yet we also know that each of us has the same number of hours each day as anyone else.
Repeat after me: I am NOT a hamster, and my life is not a whirl-o-wheel!
Time Vampires, then, cause us to be ineffective and unproductive. It’s not that we don’t have enough time, it’s that we’re not using the time we do have, we ALL have, in a way that is most productive for each of us.
Which brings me to the next point: we all work differently. Have you ever thought about how you really spend your day? Not the timestamps of when you wake up, eat breakfast, and arrive at work, but how you really get work done? Do you work best alone, or with a group? Are you a morning, afternoon, or night person? The answers to these questions are key because you’re trying to define what works best for you.
For example, I know that I work best before 3 PM every day, but I also have a creative brain burst in the evening. What that means for me: I have to get up and get moving in the morning, jump into my projects (especially the ones that are time sensitive), and slow down midday. However, the best time to write, for me, is in the evenings. Not only do I feel like I think clearer, but my family obligations have slowed to a stand-still: my family is fed, dishes are done, and my kids are at their sports’ practices or doing homework. This may not work for everyone, but it’s what works best for me, and that’s OK.
So before we move on, I encourage you to look at your day, know your rhythms, and really think about works best, and how you want to be. Only then can we move on to finding and destroying those time vampires!
I love this article! #2 is my absolute favorite for daily/weekly productivity, and #4 is the best advice for long-term goals. Comment below and let me know what you think!
Some days the to-do list seems bottomless. Just looking at it is exhausting.
We all want to know how to stop being lazy and get more done. I certainly want the answer.
So I decided to call a friend who manages to do this — and more.
Cal Newport impresses the heck out of me. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. He’s insanely productive:
- He has a full-time job as a professor at Georgetown University, teaching classes and meeting with students.
- He writes six (or more) peer-reviewed academic journal papers per year.
- He’s the author of four books including the wonderful So Good They Can’t Ignore You. And he’s at work on a fifth.
- He’s married with a young child and handles all the responsibilities that come with being a husband and dad.
- He blogs regularly about productivity and expert performance.
And yet he finishes work at 5:30 p.m. every day and rarely works weekends.
No, he does not have superpowers or a staff of 15. Okay, let’s you and I both stop being jealous of his productivity for a second and learn something.
Below you’ll get Cal’s secrets on how you can better manage your time, stop being lazy, get more done — and be finished by 5:30. Let’s get to work.
1) To-do lists are evil. Schedule everything.
To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule. Why?
It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it’s efficient, not just because it’s #4.
Until it’s on your calendar and assigned an hour, it’s just a list of wishful thinking.
Scheduling forces you to confront the reality of how much time you actually have and how long things will take. Now that you look at the whole picture you’re able to get something productive out of every free hour you have in your workday. You not only squeeze more work in but you’re able to put work into places where you can do it best.
Experts agree that if you don’t consider how long things take, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I can hear what some of you are thinking: But I get interrupted. Things get thrown at me last minute.
Great — build that into your schedule. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Things will change. But you need to have a plan, otherwise you’ll waste time.
Want to stop procrastinating? Schedule. Here’s Cal:
Assigning work to times reduces the urge to procrastinate. You are no longer deciding whether or not to work during a given period; the decision is already made.
Does this sound too mechanical? Overly structured and not much fun? Wrong.
Research shows that it’s even a good idea to schedule what you do with your free time. It increases quality of life:
This study was designed to identify the relationship between free time management and quality of life, exploring whether the amount of free time or the way people using their free time relates to their quality of life… The result has found a positive relationship between free time management and quality of life.
(For more on the schedule the most productive people use, click here.)
Okay, the to-do list is in the trash and things are going on the calendar. How do you prioritize so you’re not at work forever?
Read entire piece here.
Originally published September 18, 2014