This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on December 1, 2015 : http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252998
A lot of people spend their days in the office passing the time and not really achieving much. Often, that's not their fault. The culture of working "9-to-5" runs deep in the world of business. So, it's easy to do a lot of fake work that yields few results. Instead, people should focus only on those tasks that actually achieve something.
According to the Pareto Principle, 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of our work. So, the question becomes, how do we determine what that 20 percent is that we actually have to do?
To answer that question, let's first identify a definition for fake work: According to Rodger Dean Duncan: Fake work is work "not explicitly aligned with the strategies and goals of the organization.“ So, to do profitable work, you have to understand how the things you do align with your company's goals. Here are five criteria toward that understanding.
1. Align your tasks.
Make sure that everything you do fits into your workplace quarterly or yearly goals. One of the best ways for goal alignment is using the concept of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). First introduced by Intel, OKRs have gained a lot of popularity (for instance, Google uses them).
You must first have clear goals outlined at the company level; then, personal goals that directly related to them, can be set.
Once your goals are aligned, it's easier to decide what's important and what's not. Spending most of your time and energy on doing the important things (tasks that give you meaningful results), lets you maximize the effects of the Pareto Principle.
3. Ask for and give feedback.
The only way to actually distinguish what's real work and what's fake is to understand what goes on in your particular workplace. That requires exchanging ideas with both your manager and co-workers.
In this regard, it's helpful to have a good internal communication system in place. Whether that means a system of regular meetings, the use of status reporting software or some other enterprise network service and talking and sharing ideas to make sure the work you do matters is a must.
4. Divide your days into blocks of meaningful work.
In the office environment, we're too often distracted by coworkers, emails and random outside factors. A friend of mine use to go to work every Saturday, because, "It's quiet and I can focus on my work." Some of these distractions are things we can't avoid, but we must still try to have some level of control.
To get things done, try dividing your day into uninterrupted blocks of work. During these blocks, ignore your email, messengers and, if possible, even your phone. Some distractions can't be avoided, but minimizing their amount still helps, as multitasking decreases productivity by 40 percent.
5. Take breaks.
When you experience — as we all do — energy levels dropping throughout the day and week, you may find it easy to take the easy way out: Sit at your desk, answer emails and daydream about the weekend.
In that context, it's important to pace yourself so you don't expend all your energy on Monday morning. Taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity; skipping breaks, however, can lead to stress and exhaustion.
Avoiding fake work requires a companywide commitment. One person can do only so much. If you believe your company is not doing enough to be productive, make that clear to your supervisors, as they likely want to be more successful as well.
What ideas do you have for achieving that productivity goal?