Monday, October 10, 2011 Post By: Grayne Wetzky

Ignoring the unimportant

One thing most people will agree on is that life is very busy. Work is busy, schools is busy, even our free time is busy. Life has become extremely high paced. It's almost as if there is an exception that no one will have time for anything. That you are not successful unless you always have something you are doing or working on.

I think being busy is a good thing, but only if you are busy doing something meaningful. Most of the time, that's not the case though. A lot of the tasks we pile on ourselves are basically wheel spinning designed to feed our sense of being busy. This might look like you're doing a lot and working hard, but in reality it's a terrible productivity killer.

Paradoxically; to be more productive, try ignoring more tasks.

If you think about it, how many of the things you need to do during the day are really important? We all know that most of the time spent on twitter and Facebook is not really productive.  But what about important tasks such as checking your email and returning phone calls?

It is important to follow up with people who contact you, but you don't need to do it all day long. Batch all your mail reading and phone calls together a couple of times a day and you free up a lot of time. The same goes for reading news online, or researching work you need to do. Online research has an uncanny ability to turn into time-killing web browsing instead. Never start a task by doing 'research' start working on the task, and if you get stuck, use whatever help you need to move forward. That should be the extent of your internet browsing.

The worst time waster is not hiding in these details though. Nothing wastes more time than focusing on unimportant tasks. In a world that drives people towards being busy all the time it is very rare that people stop and consider if the task at hand is really necessary. Instead we take on 20 different unimportant tasks at once so we can be busy and never have time to assess just why we are doing it.

This kind of time wasting comes in all forms. A typical way to waste everyones time is to call a meeting. Meetings are hardly ever needed and usually end up wasting most peoples time. If you want to be productive, get out of as many meetings as you can. Whenever something needs to be decided, contact the person it relates to directly. They will probably call a meeting to discuss whatever you ask, but sometimes people will give you the information you need when you ask for it.

Other types of professional time wasting can include anything. How many reports are generated every day that no one reads? The amount of time that is lost to developing tools that never gets used is depressing. The list is endless. I am sure you can think of countless examples from your own life where work and time has been wasted.

The really mind-blowing part is that with people so wrapped up in a multitude of tasks and busywork they don't have time to check if a task is still relevant. Many times a task is no longer needed, but the feeling that we need to get it done still lingers. It takes up space in our consciousness and keeps us from focusing in something more productive.

To be more productive, learn to question every task you start. Ask yourself if the task is necessary, or if you could do something more useful right now. When you start a task, make sure you finish it. Nothing kills productivity faster than having many half completed tasks floating around in your mind. If you focus on just one task at a time it is also a lot easier to see if the task is really needed or just another time-killer.

  1. Loving your advice! I am really trying to clean up my act and motivate myself to work from home... so this is perfect timing. I definitely need to allocate set time for internet activities. Oh, and I worked for one of those companies who enjoyed meetings... meetings to discuss meetings and feel important. It was hard to stay awake.

  1. @CarrieBoo productivity is challenging, it's hard to let go of the time wasting that we have come to consider as important work.

    If you are struggling with motivation try my tip for getting motivated: Imagine yourself having already accomplished the goal you are working towards. Then use the feeling reaching that goals gives you as motivation to take action right now.

    Thanks for your comment!

  1. Thanks for the advice. Back when I was a new Asst. Professor and assigned to several committees, I was appalled to learn there was even a Committee on Committees. That's when I knew I was not meant to work for others :-).


  1. @Lynn Thank you for your comment! Wow! A committee om committees? That's like they are openly admitting that they have nothing of real value to do! The world is full of 'committees on committees', but they usually try to hide what they are behind fancier names than that :)

  1. Thanks for the post. I find myself falling for a lot of this, both in my professional life and in my home life. :) I will start questioning my tasks. :)

  1. Great tips! That's why time blocking is so helpful. Determine all of the daily tasks you GET to do and block them out together.

  1. There is usually lots of unimportant tasks and thoughts floating in my mind. Trying to focus on the most important ones is a very good suggestion!

  1. Great post! when i first started working from home i would often find myself on the internet flying off in all directions but what i should've been looking at, the day would be over and i'd find i hadn't done half of what i should have. Now i make a list every night for the next day and as i finish one task i tick it off. Now i get everything done (well almost) :)

  1. Tammie & I are fellow UBC bloggers. We both have full time jobs/business and families. You said it in a nutshell. Ignore the unimportant. Sometimes I even ignore the semi-important or at least try to keep a balance of priorities. Triage, I call it!

  1. @Seeking MJ Thank you for your comment! If there is any conciliation: you are not alone. Everyone does this to some degree.

  1. @Nicole time-blocks are indeed very helpful if you can work that system. I prefer working of a todo list and just start at the top. If I was able to set aside tasks in blocks I would be even more effective.

  1. @beth That is how the world is for almost everyone. Just the step of being aware that certain things are less important is a huge step towards being more productive. Thanks for your comment!

  1. @Dianne That is a very common time trap. Especially freelance writers have a tendency to over research their work. What it means is that 'research' is really random web surfing which is really procrastination.

    When I write something I ALWAYS start writing before I do research. If I need to find information about details I go back after the fact and fill it in. It's a slippery rope from internet research to 3 hours spent on stumbleupon :)

  1. @Carolina HeartStrings Thanks for your comment! When we look closely at our tasks it's amazing how much of it is really just busy work. Cut and drop more than you thought possible, then cut some more. Chances are there are still plenty of unimportant tasks taking up time.

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