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Working towards goals and being busy are different

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Working towards goals and being busy are different

Scott Miker

Most people that I know are busy.  They have errands to run, bills to pay, things to do.  They work long hours and always seem frustrated and busy.

Years ago, as I thought about this, I found it odd.  For being so busy, a lot of people I knew weren’t actually doing anything too productive.  They weren’t necessarily getting big things done.

Shouldn’t all of this work lead to success and accomplishment? 

Years ago I worked with someone at an education institution who was always busy but she never really seemed to get her work done.  When she did complete a work assignment it always seemed rushed and wasn’t thought-through. 

As I got to know her I started to see what was happening.  She was always busy but she didn’t have a specific systematic objective. 

She would spend hours and hours responding to news articles in the comments section.  Every time I would stop by her office, she was on another site inserting his opinion in the conversation. 

Or she was shopping online.  She would spend all day researching the next shoe purchase. 

In her mind, this was ok and not related to her feeling of being busy.  But what was happening was that she was filling her time with stuff that wasn’t essential and wasn’t building towards success and happiness.

But I see this all the time.  I talk to someone who is incredibly busy, but when I see his or her Facebook/Instragram/Twitter account I see why.  They spend all their time on social media.

So what are you spending your time on?

In Million Dollar Habits by Stellan Moreira, the author talks about how we should look at our activities, behaviors and habits as either progressive or regressive based on if they are helping us to get closer to our goals or not.

He says, “Next, find out which activities are progressive and which ones are regressive.  Regressive activities pull you back and do not let you grow whereas the progressive ones take you forward towards growth and success.”

He goes on to give an example, “if your financial goal is to open your chain of restaurants, taking cooking classes right now is an activity that could help you achieve that goal.  If you have enrolled in a culinary program, that is a good progressive activity and one you should continue.  However, if you are attending a singing program while you do not intend to become a singer and you know you have a terrible voice, that practice is a regressive one and is certainly a time waster for you.”

This distinction between progressive and regressive activities can be helpful.  Singing lessons can be progressive or regressive based on your goals and what you hope to achieve in life.  Social media engagement can be a business strategy to further awareness of your product, or a time waster. 

But how many of us fill our time with regressive activities.  We want better relationships and better family time but we spend our time with our family locked in to our phone, looking up the latest article on ESPN or Reddit.

We want to earn more money at work but we find activities that lead us away from being productive.  We want to get in shape but we spend more time looking at recipes for desserts on Pinterest than exercising or eating right. 

If we can suddenly remove all of these regressive activities, we would likely find plenty of time to get everything important done.  But these are ingrained habits and routines that we can’t just turn off.  We have to use the systems and habits approach to improvement to slowly change these activities out and replace them with the beneficial progressive activities. 

Thomas Edison has a quote that speaks directly to this idea of being busy but with the wrong activities.  He said, “Being busy does not always mean real work.  The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.”

We all spend time on regressive activities.  I know a few areas of my daily routines that don’t provide any significant value, yet I keep doing it.  In fact, some activities bring me regular unhappiness, yet I keep grabbing my phone and pulling up a news website or Facebook.  I have limited these activities over the years and anyone who connects with me on social media knows that I rarely do anything on those sites.  Yet, I still find myself from time to time being careless with my intention and getting sucked into some political article or pictures of someone’s vacation that I haven’t talked to in 10 years.

But, again, it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and suddenly changing.  Knowledge alone doesn’t bring about behavior change.  We have to deliberately attack the systems and habits around that behavior in order to successfully change and improve.

Slowly we can work towards a focused effort towards our goals.  We can eliminate all non-essential activities that don’t bring us happiness or provide much value but take a lot of time.

Some success authors go so far as to single out our daily chores and errands and proclaim them to be regressive activities.  While buying groceries, cutting the grass or getting the oil change done on the car are important and help most people live the life they choose, if we are trying to highly leverage an area of our lives for maximum success, these become regressive activities. 

Imagine if LeBron James regularly missed practice or cut practice off early so he could get an oil change.  Or, what if Mark Cuban regularly scheduled his work meetings around being able to get home to cut the grass before it rains? 

These seem a little silly.  Obviously when we leverage our skills, knowledge and abilities to such a great degree, we should probably spend a few dollars to have someone do it for us so we can keep focusing on what brings us the most success and accomplishments.

I don’t recommend people suddenly start paying someone else to do all of these small errands, but we can start to see that many times we don’t really have a problem finding ways to stay busy, even if being busy doesn’t translate to being productive.