This is a guest post by Paul Ellsworth. Paul is a writer and teacher whose passion lies in watching you reach your full potential. You can connect with him on his website here or on Twitter @paultellsworth
At one time, I had my morning routine down to a science.
I would set my alarm in the bathroom the night before. I’d put out my clothes, set the coffee to brew, and have my work space ready.
When the alarm went off, I would pop up out of bed and turn it off before it would wake anyone else.
Then I would throw cold water on my face. Next, I would drink a glass of water and do 15 minutes of exercise. Then I would read for 30 minutes. Then I would sit down to finally do what I loved to do—write.
However, there was a glitch in my system.
At the beginning of the week, I would sit down and prepare my weekly goals. By the end of the week, I would realize that I would have nothing done.
How is that possible? How is it possible that I was waking up early, working for a couple hours and still had nothing done at the end of the week?
The answer is simple:
There is a major difference between busy work and real work.
Busy work is the work that makes us feel like we are moving quickly, but in reality we’re not. Busy work is like running on a treadmill when what you really want to do is run cross country.
What does busywork look like?
- Checking Facebook countless times a day.
- Checking my email to make sure my inbox is at zero.
- Reading books and articles about the activity you SHOULD be doing.
- Upgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 10.
- Cleaning your desk or workspace.
- Organizing the files on your computer laptop.
There are many more examples, but you get the point.
Notice that all of those things are not necessarily bad things. In fact, many of those are important and have to be done at some point. The only problem is that these are not the tasks I actually sat down to do. These tasks are not actually writing.
Calling out distraction.
Distraction likes to creep in. It is very subtle. And honestly, it comes quite naturally in the creative process.
“The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction. The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.” Steven Pressfield
Real work is the work that matters. It is usually hard, and there are rarely any quick rewards. But this is the work that you set out to do in the first place.
Here is what REAL WORK looks like (at least for me):
- Do number step one again.
Not too complicated, is it? That’s the real work that is required of me. I need to write. Obviously this is a bit oversimplified as I also need to edit and market my art, but the fact of the matter is writing is the main thing that I need to do. For me, writing is the main course. Everything else is just dessert.
I can guarantee that you can narrow your work down to one or two things that are real work. Those need to be your focus. The problem lies in that busy work is important, but not more important than REAL WORK. For example, although writing is my most important part of my work, I do need to check my email and get organized and market my work.
Getting back on track.
So, the real question is, how do you give REAL WORK priority, but still get some busy work done?
I am a practical guy, so here are a few ways to get the busy work done.
- Schedule a 5-minute time to plan your day. This needs to be early in the morning or late at night for the next day. Use this time to make a to-do list for your work. Actually making time for this should be the most important item on you to do list. I have gone through many times in my life where I have spent hours figuring out a new method to get my work done, and then at the end of the day, I don’t go back and use that method. By actually spending this five minutes, you will have a greater chance of success.
- Make a high priority to-do list. You need to write down everything that is on your mind that you feel is VERY important.
Here is a simple and effective way to make that prioritized list.
First Step: Write every task that is on your mind down on paper (or on your computer. I personally use Wunderlist). Get it all out of your brain. Write everything down.
Second Step: Identify the 3 most important things on the list. These should be the things that are the REAL work. The work you originally set out to do.
Note: if you want more info on prioritized to do lists, check out this site here.
- Don’t do anything else on the list until the top 3 most important things are done.
- When you go to plan again the next day, ask yourself if you really did the work, then adjust you list accordingly.
You will be amazed at how much work you will actually get done when you sit and do the REAL work instead of busy work. You will make real progress, and I have found that when I do the stuff that really matters, I find the time for the busy work as well.
I don’t want you to be stuck doing busy work.
As a first step, please share in the comments below two actions that you consider to be real work.