One of the most basic distinctions to make in our lives is the difference between action and activity.
Action is what achieves our goals, moves our business and personal lives forward, produces what we want out of life and actually gets the job done. It is immensely rewarding but is also very likely to be difficult and challenging.
Activity is all the things we fill our lives with in order to avoid taking action. Strangely enough activity often looks better than action to our colleagues or even to ourselves. If you are an executive or run your own business then productive, focused thinking must be one of your action priorities. Unfortunately thinking often appears to be “lazy”, compared to making phone calls, dealing with email, attending meetings and generally rushing around.
You can be pretty sure you have fallen into the activity trap if:
a) You never have time to think. (Thinking is your number one top priority ACTION)
b) You work through lunch and don’t have a definite finish time in the evening. (Lack of proper breaks reduces your working efficiency)
c) You don’t have time for exercise. (Lack of exercise reduces your working efficiency and shortens your life span)
d) You don’t have time for a personal life. (If your personal life isn’t a top priority for you, what chance the rest of your priorities make any sense?)
e) You never have time to do the things you really want to do. (What’s the point of all that work then?)
f) You are constantly doing things which anyone else could do. (You should be concentrating on the things only you can do).
The best weapon in your war against activity is the Stop Doing list. Be ruthless in making out a list of activities which you are no longer going to do. And keep expanding it. Most businesses (and lives) thrive best when they concentrate on a few core objectives, rather than spreading their energies over too wide a field. Time is like money. When you budget it you should be going through a process of deciding what projects to fully fund. If you are not going to fully fund a project, then it should not be done at all.
Monitor yourself throughout a working day and keep asking yourself the question “Why am I doing this?”. There is only one acceptable answer: “Because it is an action which will take this business forward.”
Unacceptable answers include:
“My secretary doesn’t know how to type up these records”,
“I promised Joe I’d do this and I don’t want to let him down”,
“If you want anything done you’ve got to do it yourself”,
“I don’t see how I can get out of it”,
“I know it’s a waste of time but my boss expects me to do it”,
“I’ve never got around to handing it over”,
“We’ve always done it that way”,
“I’m putting off getting on with that report”,
“It’s important to be seen to be busy/interested/sociable/caring/etc.”,
“I’ve always been interested in [something entirely irrelevant]”,
“I like doing it”,
“It might be useful sometime”.
I’m sure you won’t have too much trouble adding to that list.
If you get an unacceptable answer, immediately put the activity on your Stop Doing list. And start taking the necessary action to stop doing it!