The Busy Work Trap

Do you have a big project you’re trying to complete? Is it taking a lot longer than you had thought?

Sometimes projects seem to go indefinitely, despite feeling like you’re working on it all the time. On the surface, you’re doing everything right. You’ve set aside time blocks in your calendar and you honor those work blocks. So, what gives?

The Busy Work Trap

If you’re doing a lot of “work” on your project with not a lot of measurable progress, there’s a good chance you’re trapped in busy work. Here are three ways we often “work on our projects” without actually getting any real work done.

  1. Prep work: Doing prep work for your project is important. But, too much prep work is a busy work trap. This can look like doing research and gathering ideas – often includes web browsing.
    • Avoid this trap by setting a time limit. Example: Do 20 minutes of web search and then move on to writing. Or, one week of research and then dive into the project.
  2. The eureka moment: This is all about waiting for a great idea to come to you. While you’re waiting for that eureka moment, you’re reading books, browsing the web and social media, and “thinking” about your project a great deal. Yet, you’re taking very little action besides jotting down a few ideas. Remember, clarity comes from doing.
    • Rather than waiting for the idea to reveal itself, take focused, concentrated time for ideation. This can look like a one-hour brainstorming session where you’ll come up with 100 ideas.
  3. Stand-alone time blocks: Setting aside time to work on a big project is a great first step. But, if you’re just doing busy work during this time, it’s not going to help you.
    • Make the most of your time block by taking the second step. Set a clear production outcome for your time. Example: You’ll complete your first crap draft (read more on crap drafts here).

By avoiding these three busy work traps, you’ll start seeing some real progress on your project.