We confuse activity and progress, unfortunately too often focusing on activity rather than progress.
We are constantly busy–we work 50-60 hour weeks, we are constantly in communication–doing emails, texting, tweeting, on phone calls. We are constantly in meetings, our calendars are filled with back to back meetings–with barely any time to think or prepare.
We are always doing something, but are we doing the right things? Are we doing the things that are most important and most effective to achieving our goals?
Sometimes we do activities when we don’t know what to do–but we need to fill our time. Sometimes we have to appear busy, so we fill our time.
Progress is all about the set of activities (I’d like to think the set of the fewest activities) we need to execute to effectively and efficiently achieve our goal. It’s not about the quantity of activities or our busyness, but about the effectiveness in the execution of the necessary activities. Progress is all about moving forward.
Progress implies that we have a roadmap, plan, or process, including goals-interim milestones and end objectives. Progress implies measurement–we can track ourselves in how we are doing to achieve our goals. If we don’t have a process (or don’t follow it), if we don’t have clear goals and objectives, we won’t make progress–our work is unfocused activity.
When people complain about the lack of progress–it’s generally because we have no plan or process to compare to our activities.
To make progress, we have to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. We have to plan and execute. If we want to make progress efficiently and effectively, we have to be thoughtful and purposeful in our activities.
If you want to make progress, first look at stopping–stop all the activities that don’t contribute to your goals. Eliminate anything that doesn’t have a purpose. Inspect the activities that remain. Map them against your process, plans, and strategies. Does each activity move you forward? If it doesn’t, change or eliminate it.
We’re all busy, but our business doesn’t mean we’re making progress. It’s amazing how the change in focus–looking at what progress you are making, starts to free time up–time to think, plan, and act purposefully.