Hey, I need you to make X. Could you get it back to me by this afternoon?

Sorry, but no.

Here is a metric for determining whether you're spending your time in the most effective way:

Did someone else ask you to do this, or did you decide on your own that it was worth doing?

You'll notice that the world's top performers are almost invariably doing some kind of job that they created for themselves. They didn't just show up at an office and look at the list of tasks that were assigned to them.

And yet, you can't completely ignore people's requests for you to do things, either. Every day, my fellow workers at NativShark unexpectedly ask me for things:

  • A business document printed, signed, and mailed to some office
  • A screencast video for a VC funding application
  • Copy for the affiliate program we're planning to roll out
  • Updating the marketing and content strategies section of our pitch deck
  • Writing a guide for taking private lessons at various levels in our platform
  • Responding to a potential business partner's group message to us

But they know better than to expect they'll get to these requests right away. For the items above, I only did one of these the same day it was requested of me, and that I only did because I had some unexpected free time.

Since I don't schedule anything, you'd think that I'd be very good at getting things done for people soon after they request them, but that's not really the case.

If today is the first time you asked me to do it, it's not getting done today. This is similar to how checking emails and other messages is so counter-productive. You're not doing the high-value work you determined was worthwhile. You're doing and thinking about what someone else decided was worthwhile.

Worthwhile for them is different from worthwhile for you.

Do you think that Oprah, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos let some random employee of theirs decide how they'll spend their next hour? Or maybe they wake up in the morning already knowing what they will get done today. The items that will get their precious time and attention.

You can be the same.

Start by saying no to anything that needs to get done within 24 hours. It's not your fault if this causes problems for the person making the request. They should have known that your time is so valuable, it's always booked at least a day or two in advance.

And if you have a boss who keeps throwing unexpected tasks your way, maybe try pointing out that they are harming your productivity and in turn wasting some of your company's money.

Someone who isn't organized enough to avoid asking people last-minute requests doesn't deserve last-minute rewards.