Despite your willingness, efforts, and your engagement to be effective, you will simply not succeed! Days come by and all look the same. You get in to work with all your good intentions – « today I’ll be working on… » - but the phone rings, colleagues interrupt you, emergencies arise, emails come in nonstop! At the end of the day, you are exhausted but you haven’t done anything you had planned on doing. You feel like a hamster constantly running in its wheel. At the end of the day, you realize you are still at your starting point. No feeling of accomplishment – how discouraging!
The Progress Principle
According to the Harvard Business Review (May 2011), in order to maintain our motivation and satisfaction during the workday, we must have the feeling we are progressing in a job that is meaningful.
The more people experience this feeling of accomplishment, the more they are likely to be effective – even if the progress is minimal. Simply having the feeling of progressing can make all the difference in the way they feel at the end of the day and perform throughout the day.
In short, the Progress Principle states that if people are happy and satisfied with what they have accomplished at the end of the workday, we can bet that they have progressed towards attaining their objectives. If, on the contrary, they end the day discouraged and demotivated, it’s no doubt because they have done the hamster and have the feeling that they have not progressed.
By making a meticulous analysis of the use you make of your day (activities that compose a typical day), you will realize that your day is filled with maintenance tasks and you will not find enough progress tasks.
Let’s start by differentiating maintenance tasks and progress tasks, and by understanding the impact that they can have on our effectiveness.
The Maintenance Tasks and the Progress Tasks
A maintenance task is a task that you must repeat constantly. Once completed, it keeps you in the same position as before – it simply allows you to avoid going backwards. It’s something you must do even if it does not allow you any improvement. They are daily tasks that we must do in order to execute our work : check email, return calls, prepare a schedule, attend a meeting, write a report, etc. It must be done. It always needs to be repeated.
On the other hand, a progress task is a task that allows you to attain a position that is fundamentally better than your current position. These are the tasks that open new horizons, which allow you to attain your objectives and bring you to the next level.
Know how to differentiate a maintenance task and a progress task. If it allows you to survive, it’s a maintenance task. If it brings you closer to your objectives, it’s a progress task. Obviously, in order to differentiate, one must know his objectives! Because to some people, analyzing problems, quantifying failures and documenting them would be maintenance tasks. However, if one of your objectives is – as an IT specialist – to avoid recurring problems and to improve system performance, these tasks become progress tasks!
It’s the same situation for telephone interruptions. If they take up a big chunk of your time and impede you from finalizing your budget, it is a maintenance task. However, for a receptionist, it is a progress task!
Maintenance tasks often seem urgent whereas progress tasks are usually very important. We all know that if something does not seem urgent, we often postpone it to later.
Maintenance tasks allow you to be productive and efficient, whereas progress allow you to perform and be effective!
Being effective does not require you to be constantly busy. It’s actually about being able to progress towards your objectives, without letting the day fill itself with maintenance tasks.
In order to be effective and to have a feeling of accomplishment, you will need to balance maintenance and progress tasks.