If you’re anything like me, you occasionally (or often) find yourself spinning your wheels doing busy work and not really moving anything (like your business or career) forward. Sometimes this is avoidable: Bills have to be paid, presentations have to be edited, and the trash does have to go out and, unless you have an assistant or someone to delegate to, you have to complete these tasks. There are other times, however, when I use busy work as an excuse to keep me from doing something more profitable but that I (for whatever reason) simply don’t want to do right then.
Maybe it’s the coaching meeting you need to have with a struggling employee. Perhaps is the difficult phone call you need to make to a client or a vendor. Sometimes it’s the meeting with the accountant that you’re pretty sure is going to involve some bad news. Whatever the distasteful task is that you (and I) keep putting off is, we’re putting off something that may be extremely important to us making forward progress.
Maurilio Amorim, the owner of The A Group, recently published a blog post that really brought this idea in to focus for me. In it he talks about the unplanned moments that we all experience from time-to-time and how we often waste them on busy work. When he finds himself in these moments he asks a very important question: What should I do for my business that only I can do? This thought really crystallizes the importance of certain tasks over others and should help you (and me) focus on them more.
Another tool that I’m trying out in order to keep me better focused on the important tasks at hand is one that I’m borrowing from Michael Hyatt, who I’ve mentioned before. He published his current workflow system on his blog and I really like it. Where the two ideas dovetail nicely is that if Mr. Hyatt feels that an item is actionable and can be done right now (or is critical to his business) he’ll do it right then. He doesn’t procrastinate or hide behind other busy work: He simply does the task and moves on. For tasks that can and should be deferred he will while others will be delegated.
Perhaps even more powerful is what he does with items that aren’t actionable. They’re either deleted or filed for reference the FIRST time he touches them. How many emails do you (or I) have in our Inbox that just sit there because we don’t want to deal with them when the ugly truth is that there’s nothing to deal with? They’re either a simply FYI or trash and that’s exactly how we should be treating them.
So, are you ready to make a change? I’m definitely still a work in progress but I’m excited by the thought of focusing on what’s really important by asking two questions: 1) What should I be doing for my business (or myself) that only I can do? And 2) What actionable tasks can I take care of right now?
UPDATE: Here’s an excellent post on “The first rule of doing work that matters“.