Fake-Work Projects: How to Avoid the Ultimate Time Trap

Disguised as actual work, this bad entrepreneurial habit hinders your productivity and leaves you behind on real work.
MOMeo Magazine.com
February 15, 2012

Ever have one of those days where you feel like it was a busy and productive day only to realize at 5 o’clock that you checked nothing off your to-do list and instead spent the entire day doing nothing important? Now, instead of being one step ahead, you start the next day two steps behind.

I call them “fake-work” projects and count them as one of the most destructive entrepreneurial habits. They are an insidious time-stealer. Disguised as actual work, fake-work projects, like tidying up your desk, filing your business receipts and clearing out your inbox, take away from your productive time.

When I first started working from home, I established basic productivity ground rules: no extended personal calls during office hours, no watching daytime TV and very limited time for personal tasks. Imagine my surprise when I realized that even though I stuck to the ground rules, I had put in a long day with very little billable time.

What went wrong? My suddenly-tidy desk told the story. It reminded me of how I decided that in order to be more productive I needed to get organized…right now! What I failed to acknowledge in my enthusiasm to gain more productive time was that I was also avoiding a particularly nasty project for a client I wasn’t enjoying working with.

I had created my very own (and rather convincing) fake-work project to avoid doing what I didn’t want to do. I was stuck between not really wanting to do the project and dreading firing that particular client, so I bailed on making a choice and found myself a convenient distraction.

Avoiding the time trap

So what counts as fake work? The answer is anything that doesn’t move your business forward. The most common culprits are administrative tasks, tidying your office, social media engagement and extended meetings or conference calls. The reason is all are arguably necessary but, for one reason or another, turn from productive to destructive.

Take administrative tasks as an example. It’s necessary to handle a certain amount of administrative duties, even if you manage to outsource the bulk of them. Where administrative tasks turn into fake-work is when they are done in avoidance of productive work or aren't handled as efficiently as possible.

The same holds true for social media interaction and extended meetings. Both are necessary components of business, but often turn into a time trap when participation turns from strategic to social. What should be used as business tools quickly become productivity-draining distractions.

Want to avoid getting stuck doing fake work? Consider following these tips.

Set daily focus goals. It's one of the best ways to avoid falling into the fake-work trap. Make your daily goals as specific as possible, choosing 2 to 3 core tasks to tackle (and finish). Think of them as concrete deadlines, not as an abstract wish list of things you would maybe like to accomplish if you had enough time.

Manage your day by calendar. Make your calendar and task list your time manager, and do exactly what your time manager tells you to do. That means establishing work blocks for tackling your 2 or 3 core project tasks and flex blocks for tackling other tasks, like social media updates or checking e-mail.

Know your fake-work favorites. Recognize what types of fake-work projects tempt you away from your productive work. Are you a chronic tidier? Do you get drawn into the social media scene? Do you turn to administrative tasks when you are avoiding something? Do you insist on checking e-mail every time you get a new message alert? Do you like to chit-chat after meetings or calls?

Understand the temptation. Pay attention to when and why you are tempted by fake work. Often it’s because you are avoiding something else like a task you dislike or dread. Whatever you do, don’t give in. Stick with your productive project and save your fake work as a reward for getting it done.

Handle less important tasks efficiently. Start by delegating what you can, and create a strategy for how you will handle the rest as efficiently as possible. That may mean simplifying the task or utilizing technology tools to automate it, or it may simply be a matter of handling the tasks in batches and using a timer to stay on track.

What do you do when fake-work threatens to take you off task?

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