Scott H Young

10 Tips to Be Accomplished and Instead of Just Busy


Doing tasks is an easy way to make yourself busy. But all that extra work might not be going anywhere. Unless you are actually getting projects accomplished, you might just be wasting your time.

This was the idea proposed by Cal Newport in his guest entry here, The Art of the Finish. I always strive to maintain what Cal describes as being “completion-centric.” This is where your drive is towards getting huge chunks permanently off your to-do list. Here are some of my suggestions for creating the habit of getting things finished:

  1. Do it All at Once – Kill your projects all at once. When I wrote my holistic learning e-book I did the writing all in one sitting. Writing in one uninterrupted flow was faster and resulted in a better quality of writing than if I tried to split it up over weeks.
  2. Batch into Large Time Chunks – I’m against spreading work over large periods of time. Batch things together and do them in as few chunks as possible. This reduces the time to speed up and slow down on tasks.
  3. Set Clear Goals - Cal suggests using a project page. I have a similar version I call my goals binder. In it I store the deadline and completion criteria for all my major projects. Having the end in mind keeps you from wasting time on things that aren’t critical to completing your project.
  4. Work/Life Separation - Compress projects into working extremely hard in shorter time frames. But then use the extra time to relax and enjoy yourself. Spreading work over your entire day and week results in less work being done and less fun being had. Maximize both by making a separation.
  5. Budget Investment – Before you start any new goal, define how much you are willing to invest into its completion. I set explicitly clear deadlines for all my business projects, otherwise they can expand to the point of never being completed. Know how much money, time and energy you can invest before you begin.
  6. Have a Project Kill Day - Set aside one day where you will work exclusively from the moment you wake up to one goal: killing your project list. Finish any big assignments and medium-sized tasks that might otherwise get pushed off. I’ve recently began batching all my writing (roughly 7000 words) work into just a day or two.
  7. Reward Yourself - Don’t reward a full-days work more than getting a project accomplished. Give yourself the break and reward you deserve after completing. If you reward labor instead of results, you’ll just end up busy but accomplish little.
  8. Enforce a Silence Zone - Make your work environment a complete absence of distractions. Having a colorful environment to spur creativity can help get you started, but be able to turn off the noise, phone calls and incoming e-mails when you start working.
  9. Most Important Task – Leo of ZenHabits uses another version of this completion focus in what he calls your MIT’s or Most Important Tasks. By defining these each day and working on them first you waste less time on all the little tasks that make your to-do list but aren’t critically important.
  10. Discipline Yourself – Having a completion focus is hard work. It means doing work for intense and longer unbroken stretches of time. It also means you focus on the bottom line instead of just pushing papers. All this requires that you discipline yourself to get things finished. Determine what your current threshold for work intensity and focus is and constantly try to improve upon that.

Where Does a Completion Focus Fail?

In the comments to Cal’s original entry, a few pointed out that some jobs can’t be compressed or batched so easily. Handling calls all day or performing a service often requires you to wait until the customer is ready and be prepared for constant interruptions.

My suggestion is, if you prefer this project-oriented approach towards work, is to get a different job. Choose work where you have the flexibility to compress, shuffle and complete projects instead of just having a day filled with tasks.


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7 Responses to “10 Tips to Be Accomplished and Instead of Just Busy”

  1. Espen says:

    I’ve also found that keeping a work log where I record all project work and single tasks done during the day both makes me more productive and disciplined. It also makes me FEEL more accomplished since I can see how much I’ve actually been getting done all the time. I also record unexpected small tasks that arise during the day that I complete without ever making it to the task list.

  2. 4mind4life says:

    Definitely some helpful suggestions.

  3. Teo says:

    Another nice post Scott. I always have trouble finishing my tasks, big or small. Main problem is discipline. I spent most of my time worrying when will I finish instead of doing it. That is what ‘busy’ people normally do, from what I have observed.

    Reading this article in early morning definitely motivated me to be more organised. Hopefully I can clear off today’s to-do list. Thanks!

  4. How to be an Accomplished Perfectionist

    Accomplished perfectionism is the fusion of two separate genes: those that empower a person to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and those that compels him or her to do their best possible job on these things.
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  5. zdoll says:

    I frequently make the mistake of feeling satisfied for being “busy” all day for doing something related (however slightly) to my studies. So I often do not complete the largest and most important of my college assignments. I deduce that this is why I start many “projects” I do not finish promptly.

  6. ek says:

    Out of curiosity, how are your “goal binders” set up?

  7. [...] 10 Tips to Be Accomplished and Instead of Just Busy [...]

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