I have been thinking about how I spend my time in a typical hour. In my mind, I spend the full hour working on something concrete, something that will push me towards my goals and dreams. However, I have come to realise the reality is entirely different.
If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’m wasting large chunks of the hour on completely unnecessary, mindless activities. Let me give you some examples. I check my email, perhaps every ten minutes, I scroll through seeing what’s come in. I don’t respond there and then, but it still consumes my thinking and brain.
Next comes looking at stats. Oh boy, there are loads of these to waste time on. I can look at our emailing software and see how customers are engaging and interactive in real time with the marketing emails we send.
Then there is the live analytics from our website, showing what pages our visitors are on and how they came upon our site. Then there is the scent sample request spreadsheet, wondering who has just signed up and what scents did they choose. Who has written a product review, commented on the blog, posted on Facebook?
The list of distractions goes on and on. I think I’m working, being busy, but my activity is more like a mindless voyeur. I am jumping from one distraction to the next, hopping like a frog. I’m not doing any actual work. At no point throughout this have I made any progress towards my goal. I haven’t done anything of substance. I haven’t done anything real. I have wasted the last hour. Distracted and focused on my ego.
I have just finished reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. It’s a great book, thought-provoking and intelligently written. One of the key messages I took away is to stop mistaking activity for progress.
All the activities listed above are feeding my ego. Sure, looking at them, considering them once per day or more likely once per week has value. They provide useful insights into our customers and how they interact with what we do. But looking at them a few times an hour does not. It is wasteful, non-productive, egotistical and addictive.
I have battled addiction all my life, and I’m very conscious of activities that make my brain feel like gambling. Clicking the refresh button is like pulling the handle on a slot machine. I receive small dopamine hits each time I do it. I know instinctively that for my mental health, this is terrible news.
Are you guilty of the same kind of mindless, wasteful activity? Are you kidding yourself that you are working, when you are checking email or browsing Instagram? Are you clicking refresh to see how many likes or shares your post has received? Is your ego taking over?
It feels like activity. You kid yourselves that all action is good right! You are working, so you must be moving towards your goals. But this is a fool’s journey. We are deluding ourselves. The acid test is are we making ACTUAL PROGRESS. The answer sadly is no. When you check stats, obsessively refreshing the screen you are not making progress, you are treading water. You are stoking your ego. Dreaming and wasting time.
I believe the solution is to time limit these activities. Turn off the notifications and to set clear boundaries around when and how you look at them. I’m going to go cold turkey on them over the coming days.
I can already feel how hard it’s going to be. My fingers itch to “just have a quick look”, to check one more time. I know from previous experience that when my mind reacts to changes like this that I’m on the right track. Knowledge doesn’t make the process any easier though!
Do you recognise this pattern in yourself? The first step is to acknowledge that you are doing it. From there, the key as with any addiction is to understand that it is a coping response to strong emotional feelings. In this case I suspect that we are fearful of doing the work. So instead we submit to mindless activity in order to protect ourselves from the feelings that doing the work bring upon us.
Its tough to overcome this. Ultimately the only solution. Is to take a step every day towards your goals. Create emotional strength by taking small deliberate actions every day. Make a commitment to yourself that you can live the life you have always dreamed of. It will come when you are honest with yourself about doing the work. Make sure that everything you do is real work and producing real progress. Ask yourself constantly, is this activity creating progress or am I just appearing busy. You can do it.
Long before others believe, you must believe it’s possible. Remember, we climb the mountain, not in giant leaps but one small step at a time.