Avoid work substitutes and improve your personal productivity.
Working for yourself you soon discover a change in your work practices. You become acutely aware of what is work, when time is your income and personal productivity your only mode of delivery. In our busy work lives, it is too easy to be fooled by things that feel like work.
Travel: Today is a travel day for me with transit to the airport, checkin, waiting and flights to another city. All big grown up activities but none of it actual work. The only work in this time is this blogpost written from my seat. The daily commute can also feel like work but it rarely adds any value.
Meetings: meetings are the commonest work substitute. Discuss status. Make personal connections. Drink coffee. Push ideas round in circles. Mute the call. Decide others need to do something. Play a little politics. All these activities are great work substitutes.
Research: whenever I am particularly anxious about work, I feel the need to research. It is a great form of work avoidance. Rather than tackling the actual topic, you accumulate useless information, muddy the waters and waste time on distractions. Research gives the illusion of progress without requiring output.
PowerPoint: What other application offers every business person the opportunity to fiddle with a message, bury it in distracting graphics and tweaks pages of bullet points and data tables. PowerPoint provides useless work for the recipients who must sort through the pages, print the deck and carry it to the meeting where they will be handed another carefully collated copy. Then they sit and listen to someone read the slides to them.
Conferences, offsites and training: done well these events create connections, foster learning and coalesce actions for individuals and teams. Done badly they are work substitutes of the highest order. Distracting PowerPoint fests with no consequence far from the pressures of work. Worse still, like travel, this is a highly expensive work substitute.
Email: every down moment we check if another message has arrived and furiously respond. Surely that’s progress? All that email creates less value than an open share of the same information or a quick phone call. Email has the illusion of work because it is a digital production line for memos. However what we gained in speed and response has caused a loss in thought and value.
Self-assessment: we spend a lot of time judging our own performance. Self-awareness has value. However too much of the self-assessment we do is not work. Either we assess ourselves against our intentions, not performance or we assess ourselves without action. The best assessment is in work and leads to new actions. All the rest is just an elaborate form of self-doubt or egotism.
Work is hard. Adding things that feel like work to the calendar make it only more difficult.