Busy, but nothing's done | Executive Coaching | Six 1/2 Consulting
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Busy, and getting nothing done

how to get things done

Busy, and getting nothing done

Fairly recently a client told me of a story of how he had planned on going out to lunch with his friend, Charlie. It had been months since they had seen each other, and being friends since university, it was always a good time when the two got together. On the day of their scheduled lunch, my client knew that he would have a busy day.  As an architect, he was working the design for a new kitchen in an historical home and meeting with his clients later that night to present his bid.  Still, my client had mapped out his day and there seemed to plenty of time to accomplish that day’s goal, and meet up with his old mate.

As the morning hours passed away, my client looked up at his clock and realized that his lunch was just 20 minutes away…and he was still way on the other side of town.  Plus, in looking at what he had planned on accomplishing that morning, none practically none of the items where checked off his box.

In a panic, my client called up his friend and told him he wouldn’t be able to make it.  And while his friend was understanding, my client still felt guilty. When I saw him the next week at one of our executive coaching sessions, he ask me if I had any tips on budgeting my time more wisely.

Here’s what we discussed…


When looking better skills to manage your time, one thing that I have found particularly helpful is knowing the difference between an action and an activity.

An action is the specific steps you take in the pursuit of accomplishing a goal. Consider my client, who had on his task list a variety of actions that would lead to his client meeting .  There were a lot of steps he needed to take to get that done, in no particular order:

  1. approve the final blue prints from his drafting department
  2. secure finalized quotes on 2 outstanding sub-contractors
  3. finish his proposed timeline — the clients wanted the kitchen done by Christmas and it was early October

As my client looked up at his clock and realized his day was half done and he hadn’t accomplished any of these things, he wondered what went wrong.


What my client learned in his leadership coaching with me is that there are huge differences between actions and activities. Actions are steps that lead towards a goal. Activities, on the other hand, are movements that are not tied to a goal, and oftentimes, don’t accomplish much.

During the course of the morning, my client felt like he was busy, because he was.  But he was busy doing things that did not lead towards his goal.  In his case, he spent some time answering emails, taking a call from another client, holding an impromptu meeting with one of his staff members, and looking at new tires on-line.

Now while some of those examples may be as a welcome distraction  to the normal stress of the office, what my client wasn’t cognizant of  was the weight and importance that he was giving to each.

Some tips

Don’t get me wrong, working in an office setting can be a very distracting endeavour.  People, projects, and competing interests bide for your attention constantly.  Still, being aware of what things you are involved in each day — and which you would deem activities vs. actions — is critical for effective time management.

In our upcoming posts, we will be sharing some tips on how to effectively delegate, as well as the art of saying no, two other very important pieces when it comes to effectively managing one of life’s limited resources — time.

Casey Miller

Casey A. Miller, President of 6 ½ Consulting, is on a mission: to help create environments where people value one another. In his consultancy, this means teaching business owners and executives how to build workplaces that inspire. In return, their organizations see positive returns on their time, teams, and profits.

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