The difference between being at work and working

“Understand the difference between being at work and working.” — Unknown person


I saw that quote the other day and it reminded me of a really awkward comment that an executive tweeted a few months ago. In 140 characters (I’m paraphrasing here) the tweet said something about how they looked at their employee’s calendar and saw that they didn’t have any meetings scheduled that whole day, and they questioned if that person was actually working. The comment seemed totally ridiculous to me. You don’t need to be on back to back conference calls to get your job done, especially if you’re in the trenches doing the actual work.


The situation sort of begs the question – do you know the difference between being at work and actually working?


Work and working

What you do throughout the day really varies based on level, industry and role. The executive mentioned before spends a lot more time in meetings and a lot less time doing the day-to-day tactical activities that keep the programs moving. Lengthy email chains and over scheduled meetings doesn’t always constitute as work. It’s been proven that unproductive meetings are costing companies an estimated $37 million dollars a year.


I’m not going to argue what does and doesn’t constitute as work, because each job is so vastly different than the next. But I do think that there’s a least one point throughout the day or week where we’re pulled into a situation disguised as work, but it really isn’t the biggest priority we need to be focused on, and it takes us a while to bounce back and tackle the more important deliverables.


Sitting back down and getting focused isn’t easy. To help with the struggle, we’ve put together a list of five tips to help you be less busy and more productive.


5 Tips to being less busy and more productive


  1. Write it down. Prioritize your workload the old fashioned way. Writing out a list of everything you need to accomplish that day will help you visualize your workload and increase productivity. Once you’ve got your list ready, cut out the stuff that doesn’t impact the bottom line.
  2. Stop multitasking. Busy people multitask, productive people focus. Only 2% of people can multitask successfully. Multitasking gives you the false impression that you’re accomplishing a lot of work at once. But in reality, you’re just giving two (or maybe even three) projects a fraction of your attention.
  3. Manage the interruptions. A recent study by the University of California-Irvine revealed that regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take almost 20 minutes. I’ve already been interrupted by a handful of emails and a phone call since I started writing this post. If you have a big deadline coming up, go off the grid for a little bit. Silence your phone, sign out of your email, or do whatever it is you need to do to avoid the constant pinging. You’ll save time and a lot of frustration trying to get back into the groove.
  4. Delegate. Only one in three managers are considered good delegators by their subordinates. You simply can’t do it all, you have to learn to delegate. Trust the people around you. Give them projects clogging up your workload.
  5. Stop saying yes. Saying no doesn’t mean you’re not a team player. Warren Buffet defines integrity as, “You say no to most things.” While integrity and productivity aren’t exactly the same thing, I think the meaning still applies. If you say yes too much, you’re going to spread yourself too thin and compromise the results of all of your work. Don’t be afraid to decline a meeting you know you don’t need to attend, or push back on a project you know you can’t devote time to.

There are a lot of shades of grey between work and working. Hopefully these tips will help you differentiate between the tasks we get caught up in and the ones that we need to accomplish.


Photo credit: Someecards


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