I have bad news - We all have imposters, in our heads and in our businesses.
You can relax a little though because I’m not talking about spies or sabotaging double agents from our competitors - unless of course ASIO are onto you, and then this article probably won’t be helpful at all.
The imposters (or imposter work) that I refer to are those things we do that feel like productive work, but really aren’t. They are the diversions that make us feel like we’re moving forward, like we’re achieving something, but in fact, they just chew up time and attention in exchange for no real progress. Treading water requires effort, but it doesn’t see us move forward. It merely sees us stay afloat.
Not all WORK is created equal, in fact it’s incredibly unequal. The Pareto Principle tells us that just 20% of our work inputs produce 80% of our work outputs. If this is the case, what the hell are we doing the other 80% of the time?! Unfortunately, for a lot of people it’s ‘working’ on imposter work.
The other kind of work we can do is important work - Work where you’re actively trying to achieve something that moves us toward a goal while remaining aware of whether or not what we’re doing is progressing that cause. While it would be ideal, we can’t do important work all the time. By reducing the amount of imposter work done though, we can create more time and space to work on the things we want to.
Types and Causes of Imposter Work:
For a lot of people the #1 imposter work culprit is email. They become slaves to their inbox. With so much communication taking place via email these days, you can appreciate how easy it is to slide into this space. There’s always something new and attention grabbing coming our way and we don’t want to miss opportunity. Constant connection and being online most of the day makes it all too easy to slide from important work to imposter work and before we know it, it’s lunchtime and what have we done?
It’s easy to slide from important to imposter. We all intellectually know that only SOME emails are actually important and urgent, but in the moment, it’s easy to go down the rabbithole chasing the elusive inbox zero.
We seamlessly move from responding to one email that actually is important, and then proceed to go into a black hole in our inbox for 30 minutes, only awakening because we’re hungry or we’re late for a meeting.
We started with good intentions and clear action and ended with an awakening from a vague blur that felt like productive work.
Email isn’t the only imposter that masquerades as work though. We all have these crutches we lean on that feel like important work and it’s important to know what yours are so that you can spot them when they start popping up in excess.
For some it’s calling meetings whose outcome could have been easily accomplished with a group email or a short video recording in a 10th of the time. For others it comes in the form of excessive learning in the place of action. They endlessly read and watch more to feel as though they’re ready and qualified for whatever they’ll face instead of actually doing the thing they know they need to do.
Consider this - If you work a 5 day week and only 20% of that time yields 80% of your effective outputs, that means the remaining 80% of your time yields the other 20% of outputs. Put simply, the other 4 days of the week yield just 20% of your effective outputs. Do you need 4 days per week to get 20% of your work done? Imagine how much more time you would have if you knew how to spot and avoid the imposter work.
To combat the imposters, we must know their names and faces so we can spot them when they creep in.
Each day, there are numerous little things we end up doing that crept in on the end of another task, sneakily working their way into our attention. To avoid this situation, we must be aware of what our attention is on as often as possible. If you can control your attention, you’re halfway to wherever you want to be.
If attention and awareness is one half of the battle, the other half is knowing where you’re going and what you’re trying to achieve. When you know what you’re trying to achieve, it’s a lot easier to align yourself with your target and see if this piece of work you're considering fits the bill. You can ask yourself “will this advance my cause?” or “will this progress me toward my desired destination?”
If you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, and you’re not aware of what you’re doing in the present, it’s extremely easy to fill a day, a week, a month, a year or even years with ‘work’.
Forget ASIO, treading water for a decade, now that’s a scary thought.
Thank you for taking the time to read and for investing in better thinking.
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Until then, Onward & upward, Jake