Getting Things Done Without the Busy Work

For those of you celebrating, Happy Easter! Can you believe that we are already in April?

In fact, we are today at the end of week 13 so tomorrow starts a new quarter and this weekend has been the opportunity to take a look at what I’ve been busy getting done and the acheivement against those goals I set at the beginning of the year.

Naturally, I’ve been doing a review of my weekly reviews and so looking at the ups and downs and what I’ve had to change along the way. However, starting a new quarter, and perhaps a new set of goals, it is important to look a little more deeply, and in particular, looking at recurrent themes.

Getting Things Done

Generally, I’m quite pleased with the progress I’m making and perhaps you are, too. However, I have ups and downs, and one of my recurrent themes is, as you may have guessed, being busy; having lots of things to do, but not getting done some of the key things.

To understand better why this is, it is useful to view the Eisenhower matrix and Stephen Covey’s four quadrants as described in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Quadrant 1 – the urgent and important

Activities: fighting crises and working on deadline driven projects

Results of working in this quadrant: stress, anxiety, poor performance

Quadrant 2 – the not urgent and important

Activities: building relationships, looking for new opportunities, planning work and spending time relaxing

Results of working in this quadrant: balance, high performance

Quadrant 3 – the urgent and not important

Activities: answering unplanned calls, responding to emails, spending time in meetings that don’t require our input

Results of working in this quadrant: poor performance, high level of distraction, short term focus

Quadrant 4 – the not urgent and not important

Activities: tidying a desk, engaging in chit chat before and after meetings and sending overly long replies to emails

Results of working in this quadrant: waste, procrastination, guilt, high dependency on others

Clearly, we want to mostly spend our time on important work. The important work is the work that contributes to meeting our priorities. They are also likely to be the goals that we have set for ourselves and committed to as part of our organisational goals, whether that be our own organisation or one for which we work.

However, in focussing on the important work, we want to put most of our effort into quadrant 2 activities so that there are fewer things to deal with that become quadrant 1, leaving us feeling exhausted and stressed. Whilst that might not always be possible – emergencies and short deadlines can often be unavoidable – spending time planning what action could be taken should a range of emergencies arise is time well spent and makes quadrant 1 activities easier to handle.

That then leaves us with the not important work in quadrants 3 and 4. Both of these should be kept to a minimum as if it doesn’t factor as an important task on your list, these should be able to be delegated or not done at all. Spending too much time in these quadrants generally ends up with a poor performance on a personal level, being unable to achieve our goals.

Looking back on the work that I have been doing, there appears to be too much in Quadrant 3, where, from a day job point of view, I appear to have been in a few too many meetings that went on too long, leaving me working longer hours to get the other elements done, and then leaving me with less time for my other non-work interests like this blog and my guitar practice.

After that, I appear to have been too easily led to surfing social media, becoming apathetic, and failing to properly structure my week. In other words, finding myself in Quadrant 4.

That isn’t to say that escapism isn’t to be had. Taking time to relax and indulge in seemingly pointless pastimes can be a quadrant 2 activity, but only when they are scheduled and aren’t stopping you from doing what you really should be doing.

How, then, is it possible to get into a quadrant 2 mindset? It starts by getting out of quadrant 3 and 4 work and implementing changes.

How To Escape The Busy Work

Remove Distractions

This is the easiest place to start if you find yourself, like me, in quadrant 4. If you’ve recently been working from home then it can go both ways: you can either be extremely focussed because you don’t have anyone being able to immediately speak to you as they do in the office or being at home creates different distractions, such as needing to get the bin in or finding another tidying task to do instead of the work at hand.

My biggest distraction outside of the day job is my phone. To combat this I’m going to be leaving my phone out of reach during the key times that I want to focus. I also need to find a way to do my yoga without using the YouTube app….

Although mindset can often be the biggest weapon in productivity, this post has a few more suggestions on removing distractions.

Learn to Say No

There’s no doubt that saying no can be hard, especially when it is someone in a senior workplace role. However, there are ways it can be done diplomatically, such as explaining the current tasks and the time they will take and asking specifically for a prioritisation from them. Alternatively, this may be a social request, in which case, if you don’t have the time for it, you can politely thank the person for considering you and then decline.

It’s worth bearing in mind that “when you say yes to something it means saying no to something else”. What will you be saying no to?

I’m going to be saying no to more meetings. Where I am required, I’m going to attempt to leave at the earliest opportunity and not “hanging on” just in case something interesting comes up.

Change The Schedule

When things aren’t working out, sometimes it can just be a case of changing the time that the task is scheduled to be carried out. One thing that I had already implemented was moving my writing to the morning rather than doing it after work. This has had a big impact on how much time I have after work for guitar practice.

This can also work in tandem with when you feel most energised for harder tasks. If you feel sluggish after lunch, decide whether it would be better to catch up with emails or getting stuck into writing the report that’s due next week. Graham Allcott calls this attention management, that is, scheduling or selecting your work appropriately to your attention level.


Whether you’re making steady progress with your goals or not, there can always be bumps in the journey and by reviewing progress at regular milestones is a good way to remind yourself of the tools you have at your disposal to change your mindset and trajectory for the better.


What changes will you be making to enable you to achieve your goals in the next quarter? Share in the comments below.

If you liked this post, let me know by hitting the like button, sharing on your favourite social site or signing up to receive an alert about the next post by clicking here.

I’d love to hear your story, so start a conversation on Facebook, catch up with me on Twitter and Instagram, or drop me an email via the contacts page.

Until next time, remember, if the excess baggage is weighing you down, you can always leave it in lost luggage.

Best wishes,

Ear Worm: Changes, David Bowie


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