The rise of the internet has done a number of things for society, both good and bad.

One of those things that falls on the bad side of the results is procrastination.

It is easier than ever to simultaneously do something and do nothing. 

Back in the pre-web days, procrastination was a very obvious thing. If you sat there and read the newspaper or a book, everyone around you knew that you were…reading a newspaper or a book. There was no hiding what you were doing.

But now that our work and our leisure reside in the same place – the computer – we have a tough time distinguishing between the two, and slacking off is easier than ever. It’s created a fascinating work environment.

I’ve hired and managed somewhere north of 50 or 60 people so far in my career, and through the years I’ve realized that a very low bar for success has been set.

That bar?

Actual work.

As sad as that sounds, it’s the truth, and I bet any of you reading this that have hired or managed before have had similar experiences.

For all of history, doing the actual work was a non-negotiable part of any job. It would have been laughable to think of hiring someone that didn’t work (and work hard) during the time that they’re on the clock.

Yet today when I interview and hire someone, a huge part of what I’m trying to discover in the process is an answer to the question Will this person work hard? Because sadly, hard workers are now a rarity, and certainly not guaranteed.

If I could give advice to anyone entering the workforce for the first time, the single piece of advice I’d tell them is to put their head down, work hard, ask questions, and learn. Because that is what stands out in today’s work environment. People that actually do the work are the ones that get noticed.

We’re all prone to the same procrastination distractions – the social notifications, text messages, memes, and click-bait headlines. I have fallen victim to these more times than I’d like to admit, just like we all have.

But I’ve also developed a couple solutions to the problem. Those solutions?

Put first things first.

I always do my most important work first thing in the morning. That way, if my day goes to crap at 10am, I can still lay my head on the pillow at night knowing that I moved the needle today.

It’s easy to post-pone our most important work genuinely believing we will get to it later as we catch up on our emails and Slack messages. But what inevitably happens?
We get sucked into the whirlwind of meetings, co-workers, and unforeseen problems that have to be addressed, and our most important work never gets done. These are the days that we finish feeling like we were busy the whole day, but also wondering what actual work we got done.

Do your most important work first. The whirlwind can wait.

Block off your time.

The most productive and effective people I know are diligent about managing their calendar. If there’s something important to do, it should have time blocked off on your calendar.

Need to prospect for sales? Put it on your calendar.

Need to clean up your inbox? Put it on your calendar.

Need to write a proposal? Put it on your calendar.

Need to plan for the next quarter? Put it on your calendar.

We are really good at filling the allotted time with a specific task. This is why in high school and college we could write a paper in a matter of hours at the last minute, even though we had weeks or months to work on it. If we have a time limit, we are insanely good at getting the work done.

The flip side of this is that if you leave your day open to interpretation, you can easily fill it with a whole lot of nothing.

If it needs to get done, put it on the calendar and you will get it done.

It is easier than ever to stand out in today’s work environment, yet it’s also harder than ever to stay focused on the work at hand. These two things – putting first things first and blocking your time – ensure that we’re the ones who do the real work and move the needle.

What was once a commodity is now the exception. Be the exception.

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