Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Are You Actually Working Or Just Checking?

A few years ago, I had a friend who was always “working.” He constantly talked about how busy he was, and how much work he had to do. He never had time to see movies, go out to dinner, or do much else because he told everyone he was always “working.” So one day, I started watching him. I managed to get myself into a position to actually see what he was doing on the computer. I didn’t invade his privacy. I couldn’t see his actual messages or what he wrote, but I could get an idea of his daily routine. Here’s what I learned:

He wasn’t actually working, he was “checking.”

What I saw was this:
– He’d look over his incoming email.
– Then he’d update his Facebook page.
– Then he’d check Twitter and Instagram.
– Then he’d go back to email – but mostly just to check it. He’d answer a few, and file others.
– Then he’d work on his To-Do list. He wouldn’t actually do anything on it, he’d just get it in order.
– Then it was back to checking his email.

This went on in roughly the same order for the entire day. I never actually saw him accomplish very much – he just checked things.  In the digital age we live in, we have these very incorrect ideas:

– “Checking” email is actually “processing” email.
– Updating social media is critical for our job.
– Having an efficient To-Do list is just as important as “doing” anything.
– Productivity is more important than accomplishment.

We’re all guilty at some level, so here’s what I recommend:

1. Don’t be a slave to the cult of “productivity.”
2. Having an efficient To-Do list isn’t as important as actually “doing” things.
3. Don’t check email – process it. (Or a better term might be to “triage” it.)
4. Social media is important, but not at the expense of accomplishment. The best way to increase your followers is to be someone they want to follow. That happens by creating a reputation for accomplishment.

Don’t just CHECK things. DO things. At the end of the day, create, build, produce, ship.

Because ultimately – nobody cares how awesome your To-Do list is – all they care about is the result.

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  1. Amen Phil.

    Here’s how I recovered from the checking syndrome.

    Seeing how frustrated I was at my work, an individual from another company shared with me what he did to ensure he was productive, and had poignant results-data to feed to his boss weekly. I tried a number of ways to follow his expert advise, but only one way worked for me.

    I have always used a planner, but I only tracked my meetings and some to-do items. I never tracked what I had completed each day. Once I began to record what got done each day or was still in-work and why, I then became more responsible to complete my tasks. I could clearly see I was pretty much doing as you described. I jumped into recording all I completed and those processes that carried over to the next day and why.

    Before I knew it, I was cutting down nonproductive visiting, checking and organizing. I was able to see results faster than I had in the past and a side benefit grew out of my recording what was being carried over. Patterns developed so I could see what inefficient processes I had to deal with to accomplish somethings. That helped me to raise the flag at work, and we were able to identify inefficient but value-added processes and how to fix them.

    I highly recommend to briefly list as-you-go, processes that are being completed each day. And record those choke points in your processes that constantly scuttle efficient completion of any process that seems to take to long.

    Now that I retired from that job, with way to much energy, it is even more important for me to track each day what I complete. I don’t want to become complacent watching TV and eat chocolate all day, never getting anything done during what could be the most efficient phase of my life.

  2. You’ve found my little secret: “checking” is actually a code word for “procrastinating”, or “avoiding”.

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