work is never finished

Ever feel like your work is never finished?

You can’t quite stop working at home. You wake up most mornings feeling like you’re just stepping back onto the treadmill that never stops.

On rare occasions, you think you’re done (at least for now), but then you head out for dinner or take a walk only to start thinking about all the different ways you could have tackled the situation at work. Suddenly you’re not ‘off’ anymore.

Even on vacation, you don’t really feel free. Work is on your mind, even when you’re a thousand miles away from it.

More and more leaders feel like their work is never done.

The challenge, of course, is that the more you feel like your work is never finished, the closer you edge to feeling finished.

Why is that?

Well, there are a number of factors at work.

This is a far greater problem for people today than it ever was for our parents or grandparents. Things have changed radically since the 60s and even since the 90s.

Some of the factors at work are beyond your control: to fight them is like fighting gravity.

But there’s one thing you can change, and it’s the #1 reason your work is never done.

First the reasons why it’s so difficult, which are the factors you can’t really change because they’re cultural, not personal.

Flex hours

Flex hours were supposed to liberate people from the tyranny of 8 to 4 or 9 to 5. And some extend, they did.

A defined start and finish time to work left a lot of office workers feeling like they lived in an arbitrary prison. After all, why should a responsible employee have to sit behind a desk or cubicle when they could be at their child’s school play and get their work done earlier or later?

It all makes perfect sense.

Except that when there’s no clean start and clean finish to work, there’s no clean start or clean finish to work. Everything gets lost in the messy mud of “did I really do enough?”

There’s definitely a group of people who take advantage of flex hours to cheat their employers. But I suspect there’s an even larger group of responsible people who end up doing more because there are no longer any clear boundaries.

Flexible hours really means many people just work more hours.

Your Work Isn’t Tangible

If you work at an auto plant or even at Starbucks, there’s a tangibility to work that almost no one in an office, firm or church experiences.

You start your shift and produce X number of SUV steering wheels or Frappuccinos, and you’re done. Five hours after your shift ends nobody’s thinking, “I wonder if I should be installing more steering wheels right now.”

The challenge with knowledge workers (pretty much all office, ministry workers and a growing number of entrepreneurs) is that nobody’s quite sure how to measure what we do, including us.

Sure, you can measure bank balances, attendance, customer acquisition, growth rates and the like. But how do you really measure what you do in a day?

It’s harder to find a sense of accomplishment when you met with someone for an hour and there was no defined outcome.

Maybe you should have a dozen more meetings like that. Or maybe none. Who knows?

If you’re a preacher or writer like me, who knows whether what you did accomplished anything? Sure, over the long haul you’ll see results, but every sermon could be ‘better’ and every article could be more polished or have stronger ideas.

It’s just so intangible.

The intangibility of ministry creates a tangible angst in many leaders.

More than a few people compensate by looking for other wins in their lives that are measurable. That’s why I love cutting my lawn and cleaning my car. There’s a before and after. The results are clear.

At work, they’re never that clear.

As a result, you feel like you’re never done.

The Mission is Endless

Adding to the sense of never being done many of us experience is the size of the mission facing us.

In church, there are always more people to reach. Even if your church is the largest in town, most of your town doesn’t attend church and the majority of those people likely don’t have a growing relationship with Christ.

In business, there are always more opportunities.  Even if your company is on a 30% growth curve, somebody down the road is experiencing 10x growth. And there are 7 billion people on the planet anyway to reach anyway, right?

A lot of us have an endless mission. There’s just always more.

The problem with having ‘more’ as a standard is that more has no endpoint.

You never feel done because, well, you aren’t.

Your work lives in your pocket

Previous generations have lived with intangible work and an endless mission. Arguably they handled it better than we’re handling it.

Why? Well, one reason is they never carried phones.

Your challenge is your work lives in your pocket. You carry it with you wherever you go. Even on vacation.

As a result, you feel like your work is never finished.

When you check the time or the weather forecast, you can’t help but notice the eighteen unread emails that have piled up in the last hour.

Co-workers text you at dinner. Friends ping you while you’re watching the game.

Add a laptop into the mix, and you’re never off when you’re off.

The line between work and home isn’t just blurred, it’s gone.

The #1 Reason You Feel Like Your Work Is Never Finished

All of the reasons listed above are huge factors in how we feel day to day and why the struggle is real.

But none of them is the key reason you feel like you’re never done.

You know what is?

It’s this: You feel like you’re work is never finished because you don’t have a strategy.

What you need is a strategy to figure out how to handle the pressures of flex hours, intangible work, an endless mission and your constantly buzzing phone.

After all, none of us can go back to 1974 when no one had a phone and office hours were office hours. And probably many of us won’t work at an auto plant or in retail where there are clear lines.

As a result, self-leadership has become critical. Most of us have no idea how to lead ourselves.

If someone asked you right now What’s you strategy for handling the constant pressure of work, what would your answer be?

Most leaders I know would have no answer.

Frankly, I didn’t either until ten years ago.

The Fastest Path To A More Effective You in 2021 Is…

the high impact leader

If you’re honest with yourself, how did your time management turn out in 2020?  Looking back, would you say, “Man, I was so on top of stuff, I’ve got no issues heading into 2021?”

Or are you thinking, “I need to do better with time?”

Here’s one of the challenges with time management.

Nobody’s making any more time. Everybody gets 24 equal hours in a day.

The most productive person you know gets the same amount of time you do. So why are they more effective than you?

That’s why I developed  The High Impact Leader course.

The High Impact Leader course teaches you the system that I’ve used to manage my time now for almost 15 years.

I couldn’t believe the difference this approach has made for me. Before I created the system, I was leading a fraction of what I’m leading today. I also worked more hours and I was busy exhausted. My old approach led me to into burn out.

On the way out of burnout, I realized I had to live differently.

So I started reprioritizing my time, managing my energy, figuring out how to stop getting my priorities hijacked by other people, and in the process (by accident), I became far more productive, so now I can write books, I lead a new company. I speak all over the world, host a podcast, and still actually have time for my family and for myself. I even get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

How do you do that? I’d love to show you how to do that, in the online, on-demand High Impact Leader Course.

I’ve helped over 3000 leaders free up hundreds of hours each year and often 3 hours a day to do what they feel they never have time for and get healthier in the process.

The course is designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favor.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Curious? Want to beat overwhelm and have the time to reflect, rest and reinvent yourself?

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

What About You?

In the meantime, here’s to developing a strategy that won’t just help you survive, but thrive.

What has helped you draw clear lines around work and life?

What’s your strategy?

The #1 Reason Your Work Is Never Finished


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  4. Penny on February 3, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    I have kept a daily ‘log’ (spiral notebook) for years. When many things needing to be done loom and my head starts to feel overwhelmed, I jot as many of the ideas/tasks down on a scrap piece of paper. I revisit it the next morning as I begin my day at work. I write the date, make several text boxes ( like this [] ) representing a list.
    [] 1.
    [] 2.
    [] 3.
    Then I take those things off the scrap piece of paper and write them in a priority sequence or list format. Ex: This gives me a chance to look at the whole picture, prioritize, and formulate a plan to get it done.
    People interrupting and others hijacking my day still happens but that’s a boundaries issue.
    I find my list-making helps me:
    [] 1. Get more done of the already identified priority tasks in less time b/c I focus on them regularly thruout the day
    [] 2. Feel satisfied at my competence

    Try it. You’ll see what I mean.

  5. TJ on February 2, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    Early in my church life and before I was ordained, I was on the church’s Board. It drove us all crazy that the pastor insisted upon doing the bulletins on Saturday afternoon. By himself. He’d come in and take the 300+ printed bulletins, fold, staple, and stuff them for Sunday morning. No matter our arguments that the volunteers would be happy to do that, he insisted. He told me it was his “One Thing” and that someday when I was ordained I’d understand. And, I do now. It was that one tangible thing that he knew he’d accomplished that week. No matter how crazy it got, or how his schedule got shredded, he had done that “One Thing.” Years later he told me that it also was his quiet and meditative time to think and be in the moment of doing something.

    I try very hard each week to have the “One Thing.” No matter what, I can always look back and say I’d done something tangible no matter how small. And dedicating the time to the one thing keeps me focused when things get crazy.

  6. Susan on May 27, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Great article! I have a number of strategies I use with varying degrees of success. The biggest impact for me was getting a personal cell phone in addition to my work phone. Being able to put the work phone in a drawer when I’m “off the clock” has been life-changing. I check it only once during off hours and whatever I miss offer that waits until the next day. I give my personal cell phone number to family and friends, my hairdresser, etc.

    • Susan on May 27, 2017 at 9:52 am

      Oops “other than that” 😊

    • Chris and Lauren Dixon on May 28, 2017 at 3:42 am

      Susan – nice. Having the two phones is a strategy I’m starting on Tuesday! Looking forward to it. And thanks Carey for another great blog. Looking forward to starting THIL course – but I’ll need to make time for that………..

  7. Ani on May 25, 2017 at 9:56 am

    This is how feel as a Mom and church volunteer. It’s not just money paid people who feel this way. Alas, I too need a strategy. Any suggestions? 😉

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