Work about work, preparing to work, organizing before you can start, getting ready in the morning, scrolling through emails, filing, arranging your desk, scheduling meetings, thinking without producing an artifact or action item, getting your “ducks in a row“…
These kinds of activities can keep us busy– fill our days, in fact– but none of them are real work. They are what I call meta work.
At best, meta work helps your real work time to be more productive. At worst, it’s simple avoidance. It’s laziness masquerading as busy-ness. We all do it. I have fallen into meta work traps, too. While I’m still mildly prone to them, years of working on startups and my own businesses have made me acutely aware of how important (and really how easy) it is to choose actions that 1.) have no roadblocks or dependencies and 2.) directly contribute to my objectives.
So, if you have meta work to do, like going through your email, time box it. Start and stop it on schedule, so it doesn’t steal your real work time. If possible, do it after you’ve achieved something important for the day.
If reading this post happens to be a part of your meta work routine, good! I’ve kept it short for that very reason. I know you have better things to do, and this blog isn’t it. Become a disciple of your highest priorities, and you’ll start to see meta work in a different light.