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How to recognise and stop doing busy-work

Edit: this didn’t launch on time as I wanted to check it before scheduling… but ended up being rushed to A&E early this morning and only just got back. Not a great start to the new year 😁

When a New Year comes around, I like to look back at my methods from the last year.  This is a great way to give myself some perspective. 

After all, the last thing I want to do is enter a sparkling new year with old, unproductive habits dragging me down.

Now, I do pride myself on being pretty productive.  I’ve talked about new systems I’ve put into place such as Batching my Tasks, or the new Schedule I set up.

The way I keep myself efficient is by being willing to change a system if it stops working for me and constantly keeping a look out for ways to improve.

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Too much “busy work”

A look back over 2018 revealed I had spent a little too much time getting bogged down with “busy work”.

Busy work is pretty sneaky, it isn’t always noticable for what it is while you’re doing it.  Mainly because we get caught up in the moment.

So what is Busy Work?

Busy work is those tasks that often appear to be “productive” but actually aren’t.  They are the tasks you can tick off your list but don’t really move you forward.

As To-Do List enthusiasts, it can be easy to fill a list with Busy Work and then pat ourselves on the back for “all we’ve achieved.”

But Busy Work is not really productive.

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The Wrong type of Active

One type of Busy work, is “Reactive” work.  While we all have reactive work in our lives, it’s best if we can minimise it and aim for “Proactive” work.

If you’ve ever worked in an office doing admin, you will know all about reactive work.  Most of the tasks that come over your desk seem to be reactive.

As a writer and blogger, I want less of that.

Being reactive means that you are responding to a situation.

For example:  If I fail to keep track of my Guest Posting Schedule and then someone contacts me stating they need to receive their interview questions and their post is due soon, suddenly I’m reacting. 

I have to set aside what I’m doing and sort this new task because I forgot to do it earlier.

If I was proactive, then this rushed job would not be wedging itself into my work stream.  Instead I would have stopped the problem before it arised by sending out the questions well within the timeframe and without the guest poster needing to chase me.

Being proactive allows you to control your work stream more efficiently.

ACTION: I want less reactive work hitting my desk, so I need to tighten up on some of my work streams especially in projects (like my blog) that have multiple tasks.

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Nothing Vital

Another source of Busy Work I identified was the non-vital work.  Once again, some Busy Work can creep onto your To-Do list but doesn’t actually need to be there.

If you have specific goals for your projects then you should know what sort of work you need to do one the and what work is non-productive busy work.

When I first started Twitter I was just doing Busy Work with it and it was eating up my time and producing no results. It was non-vital work that I was giving too much time and energy too.

When I became focused on the overall goals I wanted for Twitter, I reduced the Busy Work.  To me, Twitter has two important roles.

1 – Connecting me with the writing community and allowing me to make friends, make connections and even find beta readers.

2 – Building up a strong following of like-minded people.

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These are what I aim to use Twitter for.  If I deviate from that and start using it in other ways, then I’m falling into the trap of Busy Work.  The content I post must be engaging, inspiring and/or educating.

This is why I run #TheMerryWriter game.  This is why I post uplifting writing quotes.  This is why I share my blog posts and the posts of other writers/bloggers.

ACTION: Make sure all other social media sites are working as well as my Twitter site in order to reduce their Busy Work.

Have you identified any busy work you’ve been caught up with?

Share your Thoughts image.

Happy writing

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How to recognise and stop doing busy work. Image: Woman working on laptop and phone

14 comments

  1. This is one of your best posts, Ari. It spells out what we need to do to move forward. Sometimes we are unaware that all we are doing is dragging our feet.

    Huge thanks on this.

    1. Aww thank you Bryan, I appreciate that. I think we all get caught in the swirl of motion when it comes to busy work.

      Regular procrastination where we just do fun things like watch TV or play video games, is easy to acknowledge as a non-productive activity.

      But when we are doing busy work it FEELS productive. Hard to break the cycle sometimes

  2. Great post; I couldn’t agree more. This year I’m putting anything that doesn’t help me reach my ultimate goals second. No longer is it checking email or Facebook or Twitter or whatever first; first comes the writing, the editing, the what-I-need, then comes the secondary stuff, if it comes at all.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Randal. That’s a great way to be. I think by having strong goals and then tying our work to them, we are more likely to accomplish what we need.

      Urgh, don’t get me started on email. I can get lost in that time suck.

      Good luck with your plan and I wish you the best at completing your goals 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment Ashley. I think many of us have got into the habit of it. Because we are doing something, we automatically feel like we’re being productive.

      The first step is catching ourselves when we do, so we can shift our actions 🙂 Good luck

  3. I don’t know what A&E is (in the states its a cable channel), but from the comments I assume it’s something medical. I hope you’re feeling better.

    I know what you mean by reactive work. It’s why I call book 2 the red-headed step-child of my series. Every time I had a thought or got notes I would drop everything to go back to book 1 instead of sticking to my schedule. This year I’m not going to do that…hopefully.

    1. Thanks Ivia, yes it was medical. A&E stands for Accident and Emergency.

      LOL I love your term for book 2, it made me smile.

      I think as long as we acknowledge when we fall into the trap of busy work, we can start to move forward. 🙂

  4. Oh dear! Not a good start to New Year! But I hope you’re doing better now… I’m pretty good with prioritising, but I definitely need to focus on what I’m using social media for and set goals… I fall down on that.

    1. Thanks 🙂 Yes, I’m doing better. I know, not a great portent for this year is it?

      I am the same, I can get swept up in social media without a plan. I sorted Twitter well, but I need to work more on the others, as they can become a huge time suck.

    1. Thank you Suzanne, yes I’m doing better now.
      I feel it’s like a constant cycle. I often catch myself doing busy work and it’s frustrating because usually it’s after I’ve been doing it for an hour or two before I even notice.

      It’s a type of procrastination. We think we’re being productive because we’re doing things, but it would probably be better if we procrastinated by reading or watching TV, at least we’d enjoy that more! 🙂

      I think we just need to keep acknowledging it when it happens and then force ourselves to stop and do real work

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