One of the most strategic things each of us can do - and insist from our staff is that we not fall into the activity trap. Simply put, the activity trap is the mistake of believing that activity is synonymous with results. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Think for a moment about people you know. Some of them seem to be always busy but the results from their work are, well, meager. Others, may or may not seem busy but the results of their work are significant.
I have watched senior leaders and even CEO's fall into the activity trap, endlessly busy with "important things" but truly meager in terms of the results of their work. Often if it were not for some good folks around them they would be seen as the "emperor without clothes." Sometimes they can fool outsiders who see the activity but insiders have a hard time figuring out what they really produce.
What makes the difference between those who see meager results and those who see significant results?
The difference is that those who see the best results understand that activity does not equal results. Activity is simply being busy. But if that activity is not carefully focused on specific outcomes one is simply left with activity.
General or unfocused activity yields general and unfocused results. Specific and focused activity will yield specific pre-determined outcomes that help the organization realize its objectives. In the first case the activity is focused on activity while in the second, the activity is focused on outcomes. It is a critical difference.
I am not indicating that those who live with unfocused activity are not doing good things. The question is whether the activity is focused on the good things that will yield the results they are after.
A problem with typical job descriptions is that they actually are a list of activities rather than a description of necessary results. That is why I believe it is far better to have job descriptions with Key Result Areas which are the outcomes wanted for the position than to have a list of activity. With Key Result Areas any activity included in the job is actually focused toward a few definable results that spell success for the job.
One of the ironies is that those who choose to do less often actually accomplish more because they are more focused than those running at a heavy pace.
To avoid the activity trap we should be able to answer these questions:
Do I know what specific results I want from my work? For instance I have five Key Result Areas that spell success for my work. Can you define what spells success for you?
Is my daily, weekly and monthly activity focused on achieving the specific results I have identified?
Do I have a strategy for making sure I stay focused? After all it is very easy to drift and a strategy for staying focused is important.
If you are a supervisor, can your reports answer these questions?