Stop Doing Busywork. Do More High-Value Work

Thomas Oppong
Nov 7, 2017 · 4 min read

In an era of extreme busyness, the only conceivable way to live a meaningful and a purpose-driven life is to stop doing busy work.

Trying to keep up with the overwhelming pace of today’s world keeps us in a constant state of busyness. It’s time-consuming.

You simply can’t do it all and respond to everything and everyone. It pays to prioritize. Choose your daily actions carefully.

Prioritization empowers you to focus on the most important tasks while shelving unimportant work for later.

Everything you do with no real purpose is a waste of your precious time.

Busy work makes you feel like you are moving quickly and being productive in the process. But in effect, you are not.

If you took time to measure your work, you will be surprised at how little valuable work you are doing.

Oliver Burkeman of BBC writes, “When you’re busy, you’re more likely to make poor time-management choices — taking on commitments you can’t handle, or prioritizing trifling tasks over crucial ones. A vicious spiral kicks in: your feelings of busyness leave you even busier than before.”

Real work advances your goals while busy work it is what you do to avoid real work.

Many of us confuse being “busy” with being effective, or efficient.

If you start your day by answering emails. You could get sucked into answering questions, replying to every email, and advancing the cause of other people’s actions.

Be proactive about your emails.

Don’t get caught up in reactive mode.

“Most of us have no problem with being busy, but we’re often busy on the wrong things,” says Angie Morgan, co-author of Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success. “You could spend nine to five just emailing, but that’s not driving results or moving you toward longer, bigger goals. When people say, ‘I’m so busy,’ it really means, ‘I’m a poor planner,’ or, ‘I don’t know how to prioritize or delegate.”

Adopt the “one thing” approach. Make the hard choices and work on your most important priorities.

Develop task and time mastery.

You can stop busy work and do your best work every day.

But it comes at a cost because you have to change your approach to work entirely: Develop a greater focus.

Committing to only doing really important work takes an incredible amount of discipline.

Your time is limited. Doing everything is not an option.

Doing one thing means not doing something else. And there is a big difference between the things that should be done and the things that must be done.

Resist the temptation to multitask.

If you have several items to focus on within the same day, try breaking your work time into short, focused bursts.

The Pomodoro method is a popular strategy where you spend 25 minutes working and 5 in between tasks to rest.

This way, you’re still focusing on your most important high-value work, but also giving yourself the freedom to jump between different tasks.

We live in an “infinite world”, says Tony Crabbe, author of the book Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much. There are always more incoming emails, more meetings, more things to read, more ideas, projects and work to follow up.

The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed: we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount.

We feel a social pressure to “do it all”, at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical impossibility.

To finish what you start, and get real work done, Cal Newport recommends the Daily Check-In method. He writes:

Each morning, look at your project page and ask: “What’s the most progress I can make toward completing this list today?” Your biggest goal should be to complete projects. If you see a way to do it (even if it requires a big push, perhaps working late) go for it. If you can’t finish one, think of the single thing you could do that would get you closest to this goal over the next few days. Harbor an obsession for killing this list!

Aim to make as much progress on your work, as possible despite the other reactive tasks that demand your attention.

Being busy is an excuse to ourselves and others for not doing the important things, the scary things, the difficult things, the hard work that makes real impact on results.

Being effective means being deliberate. You have to choose to pursue high-value work.

Low-value work is inevitable. Schedule time for low-value tasks to measure how much time you spend on them.

This seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t in practice.

When you limit how much time you give yourself to work on urgent but not important tasks, you force yourself to expend more energy over less time so you can get the tasks done faster to make time for high-value work.

Lean to avoid the busy work that adds no real value to your work, vision or long-term goal.

The more deliberate you are about how you spend your time and energy, the less likely you will get bogged down in trivial tasks.

Dig deeper

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Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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