Leverage the Difference Between “Doing” and “Getting Done”

Here’ a quick exercise. Think of the most productive person you know. Now answer the following question: are they doing a lot of stuff, or getting a lot of stuff done?

Yes, you read the question correctly. It may seem like I’m being redundant — asking the same thing twice. But I’m not.

You see, there is a difference between doing and getting done. Knowing that difference and leveraging it is the key to being truly productive.

When you’re doing something, you’re engaged in work. You’re active, you’re relating to something, and you’re focused on it. If you do it right, you’re losing yourself in it. Some call it — in its ideal state — flow.

When you’re getting something done, you’re not necessarily doing anything in particular. The president of a company might get a lot of stuff done, but she’s not doing the doing — that’s not her job. Her job is to make sure the stuff gets done. She owns the results — not necessarily the work that gets them.

That’s also true for you — or for anyone who is trying to be more productive. Whatever your intended result is in your work — that’s where the value is. Any work you do in order to get that result is either stealing your time and effort away from other results you’re after or adding value because you enjoy it or benefit from doing the work itself.

Being productive starts with separating the things you want done from the things you want to be doing. And it continues as you realize that in order to get a lot of stuff done, you can’t attempt to do all the things yourself. That’s a key distinction, but one that many people who desperately want to be productive fail to realize.

Do What You Want to Do, Get the Rest Done

One of the worst things you can do is to spend time and energy forcing yourself to do tasks that you just don’t naturally gravitate towards — when there are other tasks that you do. What if you could do almost entirely the things you enjoy doing, and still get the other things done? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

It is possible. You can probably do it even more than you think. Take your to-do list, and next to each item, write either “+” or “ — “, based on whether or not it’s something you like doing. If you’re ambivalent, and can’t decide, put a “ — “ next to it. Here I’m stealing a page from Greg McKeown:

If it isn’t a clear “yes”, then it’s a clear “no”.

Once you’ve marked a plus or minus next to each of your tasks, sit back and bask in the glory — you’ve just made your first DRR (Delegate, Renegotiate, Reevaluate) List!

Delegate, Renegotiate, Reevaluate

With a list of the “ — “ tasks in hand, start looking at ways you can unload that stuff. Essentially, there are 3 ways to go about this:

  1. Delegate the stuff that you can ask others to do
  2. Renegotiate the tasks you’d rather not do
  3. Reevaluate whether this thing on your list really needs to be done

Make no mistake delegation is an art, and the more skill you have in it, the more productive you can become. As always, someone else has said it better than I can:

Even “Super You” needs help and support. There is no shame in asking for assistance. Push aside the pride and show respect for the talent others can bring to the table.
And, remember that there is no such thing as a single-handed success: when you include and acknowledge all those in your corner, you propel yourself, your teammates and your supporters to greater heights.

If you’re savvy enough to realize that delegation can actually be a compliment to someone, you’re well on your way to being a productivity superstar. Seriously — if you sincerely ask for someone to help you by doing something for you, you convey a very serious form of respect for that person. You trust them and their skills enough to ask them to help you with something.

Everything you have on your task list is a commitment. Either you’ve committed to someone else that it would get done, or you committed that to yourself. In either case, when you face a list of things you’d rather not do (even if you want to see them done), you are looking at commitments. The question then, is which of those commitments can you renegotiate.

Renegotiation allows for all kinds of tactics and maneuvers. This is where you can get pretty creative. You can trade tasks you dread for ones you like, tough ones for easier ones, etc. But best of all, you can just plain ask if this is something that can be done on a longer timeline (i.e. later) — or better yet, whether it needs to be done at all.

I am dead serious about that last option. Some things on your to do list may not need to be done at all.

I have carried many items on my task list over the years that seemed so necessary at some point, and after a while became less so. At some point, I asked the big question: hey, does this still really need to get done? I continue to be surprised by how often the answer is some form of “no”.

The point is, being productive also requires that you be able to understand what really needs to be done, done to the extent initially demanded, or done within the initially requested time-frame. All those things end up being moving targets, and being productive requires you to be able to keep your aim true throughout that movement.

In Conclusion

We’re only as productive as our ability to discern between what we really want done vs. what we really want to be doing.

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