Nobody Likes “Fake Work” – Here’s How to Avoid It

graphic of how to avoid fake work

Do you ever have those workdays where you felt like you were busy all day, only to realize you got nothing done? Chances are, you were busy doing fake work.

Fake work is any task that isn’t aligned with your company’s strategies and goals. (You can learn more in Fake Work: Why People are Working Harder than Ever But Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem by Brent Peterson and Gaylan Nielson.)

Doing nothing but fake work (like answering emails or organizing your computer files) can make for a pretty boring day. And, if you have too many days without accomplishing anything important, you might start looking for a new job – one that’s more rewarding.

It’s not your fault that you get caught up doing fake work. It’s the 9-to-5 culture in the U.S. Most companies expect you to show up and work all day, every day, even if your important projects are already done.

Instead of just resigning to your fate, there are some steps you can take to avoid fake work and have more meaningful days.

Choose Tasks that Align with Your Company’s Goals

Do you know what your company’s goals are? If not, find those out first. After you understand what your company’s goals and mission are, set your own personal goals that align with the company’s.

If your company hasn’t officially set employee goals, don’t let that stop you. Create some goals that help your company grow, then sit down with your boss to discuss them.

Review Your Job Description

If you’re at a loss for what goals to set, look at your job description. Remind yourself what you were hired to do, then figure out what tasks will be the most useful to the company.

Make a Daily To-Do List

Having a daily to-do list will help keep you focused on what’s important – so you don’t fall back into the old trap of cleaning out your inbox.

End each workday reflecting on what you’ve accomplished, then make a to-do list for tomorrow. Make sure that you’re not filling your to-do list with tons of busywork, but are focusing on two or three core tasks.

Prioritize Your Tasks

After you’ve written out your to-do list, prioritize your tasks. Figure out which tasks are the most important and spend most of your time completing those. Your most important tasks are the ones that actively help you achieve your goals.

Divide Your Days into Chunks of Time

You have a lot of distractions in the office – meetings, quick chats with coworkers, emails to answer. You can’t avoid all those distractions, but you can block off times during the day for uninterrupted work. During those times, don’t answer emails, IMs, or your phone, and close your door (if you have one). Use those chunks of time to knock out your most important tasks.

Take a Break

Your energy level will drop during the day and during the week. As your energy level drops, you’ll find it easier and easier to just zone out and do nothing but answer emails. To avoid these drops, get up every hour or so and take a walk around the office. By taking regular breaks, you’ll be able to refocus and get more done.

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