I often run into people who tell me how busy they are but when pressed provide a list of activities they are involved in but very little in the way of outcomes. The current podcast episode is designed to help you tell the difference and why that will help you stop going in circles.

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If you have listened to this podcast for any length of time you’ve heard me talk about cleaning out closets as my avoidance behavior. Whenever I find myself involved in the activity I know there is a difficult task that I have put on the back burner because of course having a neat closet is not a high priority. In the same way a great number of us equate doing something or activity as an achievement when it is simply an action that may or may not result in a worthwhile outcome.

Activity is a great avoidance behavior because it gives the false impression that all that fur flying is an end in itself when for the most part it is just doing something to say we have “done” something with no end result in mind. Meetings are the perfect example of the ultimate fur flying activity. Can’t think of anything to do to fix a problem? Let’s have a meeting! Never mind that very little is ever accomplished, but at least we did a dance around a conference table to tell ourselves that we have done something.

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With that in mind a clarification of activity versus outcome is required. Outcomes are goals or a definite result that is aimed for and activities should be the steps involved to accomplish them. Outcomes can be measured against an ideal, steps or activities can only be counted. Simple enough on the face of it but it is amazing how many people confuse the two.

Whenever you find yourself deep into an activity the first thing you should begin to ask yourself is what is the goal of this activity and where does it fall in relation to a goal I’ve set for myself, complete with dates times and amounts. It is a critical assessment because any activity that does not move you in the direction of a stated goal is quite frankly cleaning closets and counter-productive.

One of the best ways to get beyond this trap is to write down big picture ideas and then begin to ask yourself what steps or activities you need to be involved in to make them real. Follow this up with the question of where the things you are currently doing fall in relation to those goals and steps you have just written down. Every step you have outlined should pass the test of how it gets you to the stated goal in very specific terms. Then set up some measure to test how well this activity is performing (for example in two weeks I should have this to show for the activity) If it cannot pass this test then it should be evaluated in terms of time or abandoned as not a worthwhile use of your effort.

These suggestions may not completely unclutter your schedule. On the other hand, you will at least know that all that activity is going toward the thing you want and not just cleaning out closets that take you no where.

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