Too many of you, my fellow professionals, spend too much time on non-essential or trivial tasks. 

I’m not doubting your work ethic—I know you put in the time—but I doubt how truly effective that time is.

I’m a long-time fan of David Allen and his Getting Things Done system.  In his book, he talks about “limiting criteria” for your predefined work.  These are: 

1: Context (what can I do in my current environment)

2: Time Available (calendar conflicts)

3: Resources (energy and attention)

But, being the project management nerd that I am, I add a 4th limiting criteria: constraints.

Constraints are limitations or restrictions within your organization or your project, and they drive project efforts. 

If you don’t believe me, think back to an effort you faced when you lacked a vital resource for your success.  

Now couple these limiting criteria with the 5 Horizon Levels discussed in Getting Things Done:

Ground Level: Calendar actions

Horizon 1: Projects

Horizon 2: Areas of Focus 

Horizon 3: Goals

Horizon 4: Vision

Horizon 5: Purpose

First, if you are a professional or executive, I want you to take a hard look at those levels and picture the actions for each. 

Next, think about how many days of work you lose due to calendar actions and tasks (Ground Level activities) when you should be focused on Areas of Focus (Horizon Level 2) or Goals (Horizon Level 3).  

Last, if you are an entrepreneur or C-Suite member, I want you to acknowledge you should consistently be at Horizons 4 and 5 so you can set yourself and your organization up for success.  

And that’s the problem. People like Ground-Level activities because they give us a sense of accomplishment.  They also give us ready-made excuses.

“Sure, I didn’t get anything done today, but, man, I attended 9 meetings!”  (Only 2 of them were relevant to me)

“I know I should be driving my company’s growth, but did you see that I got 178 likes on that LinkedIn post I made!”  (And while I was on LinkedIn, I spent 75 minutes liking other posts as well).

We do this out of fear.  Being accountable for Goals, Vision, and Purpose can be scary.

I suggest keeping a scorecard of how many times each day you catch yourself being unintentional with your time and actions.  Times when you find yourself doing unscheduled Ground Level activities when you should, in fact, be focusing on the (more difficult) higher Horizon Levels.

When you look at it at the end of your week, you’ll probably be surprised about how very unintentional and productive you actually were.