How often do you try to get something done, but you’re dragged down by small details that seem to keep piling up?
Like you’re feeling stagnant and not actually moving towards your goals...
It’s amazing how easily we find a million things to do when we’re faced with an important task.
For example, when you need to finish a report and somehow cleaning the top of refrigerator becomes interesting.
Or, how just the other day I spent 30 minutes making a Facebook header the perfect size instead of writing a post…
This is creative avoidance: tasks we do that don’t directly create results. Creative avoidance is just wasted time, but we act like it’s valuable… usually, because we don’t want to get started.
Creative avoidance looks like this:
- Needing to follow up with clients, but spending time cleaning your desktop and decluttering your hard drive so you’ll be more “productive” when you eventually follow up with them (hopefully).
- Needing to study for your exam, but you also have to sort through your email and texts and make sure your iguana gets fed (well, maybe you should feed him).
- Needing to set aside quality time with your spouse, but the laundry needs done and the stovetop is greasy and how can you have a healthy marriage when the gutters are full of leaves?
Creative avoidance is the illusion of progress
“Creative avoidance is a different beast. It covers its own tracks by creating the illusion that you are making progress. It lets you feel productive without prioritizing. This is so much more dangerous” - Greg Faxon
Creative avoidance is so dangerous because we finish a day feeling exhausted, and sometimes overwhelmed, and we can’t figure out what we actually did to create lasting results.
We buy into the illusion that our busyness equates to productivity. In reality, busyness without direction equates to frustration and stalling.
Feeling like you’re working exhaustively but not moving anywhere?
2 lessons business can teach you about productivity
(I’m going to run through a couple of business concepts, but these can easily be applied to any area of your life)
- Spend most of your time on results generating activities
Businesses heavily invest most of their time and energy on “income generating activities”... activities that directly create money for the company.
For example, a lawncare business would have income generating activities of mowing lawns. It would also have other activities liking filing paperwork. Although filing paperwork is important to the business, it doesn’t directly create income for the business like mowing does.
The business would quickly go under if most of its time was spent filing paperwork instead of mowing. Or if workers only cut half of a lawn and then left to file paperwork because they didn't feel like mowing anymore.
This sounds crazy, but we do this same thing all the time!
For our intents and purposes, let’s change “income generating activities” to “results generating activities”...
Businesses are constantly streamlining and trimming down any extraneous tasks that don’t generate results.
To be productive with your time and escape creative avoidance, you need to be spending most of your time on results generating activities.
If you need to ace an exam, studying is just about the only results generating activity. Everything else is creative avoidance.
If you need to work on your relationship, spending meaningful time together is your only results generating activity. Everything else is just a wash.
The time you invest outside of results generating activities will only leave you exhausted and unproductive.
To start being focused with your time, you need to understand what results you’re looking for by understanding your KPI’s.
2. Understand and track your KPI’s
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. It’s a common term in business used to identify key metrics that directly relate to results.
If you want to increase revenue, then your sales volume is a KPI because it’s directly related to the result you want.
The idea of KPI’s can translate outside of business, too. They give us a clear way to define what success looks like so we can see our progress.
For example, I want to grow my writing ability. So, my KPI is how many posts per week I write. Since I know that metric is key to growing my writing ability, I pay close attention to it and work to make sure my posts per week KPI is where I want it to be.
For you, it might be how many chapters you read per day. Or maybe it’s how much time you spend with a friend. Or maybe it’s how many clients you talk to.
No matter what your desired result is, you need an activity you can quantify that directly relates to your result.
i.e. The number of sales calls is a KPI that creates results for you. Cleaning your desk isn’t a KPI and creates no direct results for you.
Start to find the KPI’s that directly contribute to the results you want. Then, start focusing your time on results generating activities by constantly chasing after your KPI’s.
How to quit avoiding and finally start moving
Ready to start spending time that actually produces results?
Start by spending at least 10 hours per week on results generating activities.
Define what success looks, understand you KPI’s, then chase after them.
Now, this sounds all fine and dandy for about an hour. And then you might get overwhelmed. Or bored.
This is where creative avoidance steps in. Creative avoidance shows itself when we feel overwhelmed or exhausted.
To fix this, start by breaking your results generating activities into small chunks (I wrote a nifty post on how to do that here).
Instead of saying "I'm going to write a blog post tomorrow", say "Tonight I'm only going to work on the outline". Then, tomorrow you can take an hour to flesh out the outline. Grab lunch. Then, take an hour to finish the post.
The small chunks of time will keep your more focused and help you create better work. Don’t believe me?
Creative avoidance also creeps up when we can’t learn to say no to the things that steal away our time and energy. Learn to say no to the things that don’t directly help you create results.
To finally come home from a day of work and actually feel productive, you’ll need to index your time and energy and understand if your work is contributing to something that creates valuable results.
It’s like the Pareto Principle:
“Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of your problems and unhappiness? Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of your desired outcomes and happiness?” - Scott Hudspeth
Most likely, 20% of those sources are creative avoidance. Eliminate that and you cut back on a significant amount of frustration.
Here’s the game plan
Start with the big idea… what results do you want?
Distill that idea down further into KPI’s you can understand and track… what metrics directly reflect the goal you have?
Create a list of results generating activities and start practicing those a minimum of 10 hours per week instead of creative avoidance.