Real Work vs. Busy Work

Some helpful points from Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management:

“Real work is what advances your business or your job” (69). It uses your skills to the full and often takes you out of the comfort zone. It is challenging by nature, and thus meets with some resistance in your mind.

Busy work is “what you do in order to avoid doing the real work.”

Real work involves lots of planning and thinking; for that reason, busy work often looks more like real work, because it is more immediate and you are rushing around looking busy. Sitting quietly and thinking, on the other hand, does not look like real work.

Doing work that someone else could do is also busy work.

Signs that you have fallen into the trap of busy work:

  1. Your work overwhelms you but doesn’t challenge you. “Real work is challenging but not overwhelming” (70).
  2. You are doing the same kind of work the people under you are doing. “Real work requires your individual skills and experience” (70). “If what you are doing could be done by someone who doesn’t have that skill and experience, you are working below your capacity.”
  3. There are vital actions you haven’t gotten around to. “Real work is those vital actions.”
  4. You never have time to stop and think. “Real work is thought expressing itself in action. If you are not thinking, you are unlikely to be doing any real work” (70).
  5. Your time horizon is very short. “Real work involves planning further ahead than the immediate horizon” (71).
  6. You are continually running up against problems. “Real work insists on excellent systems to support it.”