Work All Day, Get Nothing Done



“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” — Stephen King

Have you ever been busy all day but got nothing done?

Does it ever feel like the faster you go, the more behind you get?

You’re not alone.

It’s a pervasive problem and it really comes down to one thing:


Or lack, thereof.

In The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership, Joelle K. Jay walks through the problem of work all day, get nothing done, and busy but not productive.

Your are Frozen by All the Possibilities

There’s more than you can do in a day, and there’s more than you can do in this moment.  And this paralyzes you.   And then you dive back into your endless pile of things to do.

Via The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:

“It’s three in the afternoon.  You’re standing in the middle of your office.  Hands on your hips, you deliberate about what to do now.  Do you site down and sling out a rash of emails?  Do you return a few phone calls? Or do you close your door and somehow try to concentrate on the big project you really need to work on?  Frozen, you are immobilized by the possibilities.  You drift off for a minute, staring off into space.  Then you catch yourself and snap back into action.”

Head Down You Fly Through Tasks

The day flies by as you dig through the things you need to get done.

Via The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:

“The rest of the day you spend busily working.  You pull out a project, then the phone rings and sets you off in another direction.  You keep on top of your emails and other people’s requests as best you can in an attempt to keep the deluge at bay.  Head down, you fly through tasks and manage the crisis, barely looking up to notice the time until finally, the day comes to an end.”

You Were Busy All Day

You were busy all day, but you haven’t really accomplished anything.

It’s been a day full of nothing.

Sure you were busy.  You were busy all day.  But when you add it all up, it doesn’t amount to much.  It’s like you’re treading water.  Worse, this isn’t how you wanted to be spending your days, as you days fly by.

Via The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:

“Driving home you’re spent.  The day has been intense and full.  You take satisfaction in enumerating all you’ve done.  Then you realize even though you’ve been busy all day, you haven’t really done anything.  You’ve been so buried, you’ve lost sigh of your grander vision.  You find yourself being haunted by vague, unanswerable questions.  Could I be doing better than this? Is this what I wanted for my life? Am I making any difference? Somehow answering these questions never gets to the top of the list.  Why is that? your mind drifts off, hypnotized by the traffic and whirring about what you need to do tomorrow.”

You are Busy But Not Productive

I have a thousand things to do today.   And if I did them all, I bet I would have a very unproductive day.

Via The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:

“Have you ever had this experience? Ironically, even though you may be working all day, you never feel like you get anything done.  You’re busy but not necessarily productive.  Somewhere in the back of your mind, you wonder if you’re doing the right things.  Not that you have a choice.  You’re too swamped with what you have to do today to dwell for long on what you want to do or ought to do to be more effective.  Still, you know there’s something wrong with this picture.”

You Haven’t Stopped Long Enough to Check

Are you even working on the right things?  Who knows.  There’s no time to check.

Sure it sounds silly, but how many days (weeks?, months?), have you lost by not checking whether you’re on the right track?

Via The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:

“And you’re right.  There is.  What’s wrong is that when you bounce from task to task, you’re not choosing where to put your attention.  You’re living by chance and not by choice.  You may be ignoring the most valuable part of your life — the parts that are going to help you achieve your vision, possibly in the long term and definitely for today.  Or, you may be doing many of the right things, but you’re not really sure.  You haven’t stopped moving long enough to check.  Plus, there are so many priorities, you find it hard to keep them all straight, much less stay on top of them all at once.”

What’s the Solution?  … Find Your Focus

The answer isn’t do more.  It’s actually do less.   But do less, better, by using your focus.

Via The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership:

“In order to get what you want, in order to be who you want to be, in order to live the kind of life you wan to live and lead the way you want to lead, you need to be more strategic than that. You need to find focus.”

There’s no shortage of things to do.

You could stay busy all day.

You can spend your time without investing your time.

But if you want more fulfillment and to get better results, then focus is your friend.

It’s the concentrated effort in batches that will help you produce more meaningful results.

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Image by Hamish Duncan.