While sitting at your desk, you decide to ‘straighten it up.’ Afterwards, you decide to clean out your inbox and color-code your mail. Then you go to lunch. When you get back from lunch, you realize that you have a stack of documents that need to be filed, so you tackle that. Afterwards, you call your doctor’s office to make an appointment, which reminds you of a question you had about your insurance. You spend a half-hour online trying to get the answer. Now, it’s time for your staff meeting. Returning to your office, you now have a half-hour left as you prepare to work on the presentation that’s due the day after tomorrow. You throw your hands up in frustration as you wonder, where did the time go? Granted, you were ‘busy’ all day. But what did you accomplish?
Busy looks good. Had your boss walked by and seen you filing or researching on your computer, you would have appeared to be working hard. Busy feels good. You are active and you are doing something. And although it’s nice to have a clean inbox and to have your papers filed, when you look at the tasks on your plate, did any of it help?
The answer is to focus. You need to start your day with a purpose and a focus. Today, I plan to _______. By the end of the day, I will have _______. If to-do list or scribbling it on a post-it note helps, do it. Regardless, whether you write it out or just think about it, know what you will focus on and then follow-though. After you’ve accomplished your tasks, then look around for the ‘busy work’. Then and only then, after the important tasks have been accomplished, do you clean your inbox or tackle the filing.
Also, realize the role that procrastination plays in busy work. Often, we chose the easy busywork because we don’t want to do the important work. Breaking down those big important tasks into smaller more manageable ones can help you get started. In fact, you can use some busy work to reward you when you accomplish one of the smaller steps of your project.
If you are procrastinating on your project because you need information or instruction, ask. It's better if you write out or think through the questions you want to ask and then make an effort to ask them early into the project. Don't wait until a day or week before the project is due to ask the basic questions.
Don't be busy - be productive.