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Why Your Day Feels Wasted Even Though You Worked Nonstop

All the parts of your day are “real” work.

“Ugh, I didn’t get anything done today!”

I often have this feeling at the end of a workday.

Even though I know I was busy and working hard from sun up to sun down, that satisfying feeling of reaching the bottom of my to-do list often evades me.

Have you ever felt like you wasted the whole day fighting fires, calling people back, and working through your email inbox but you didn’t get to any of the real work, the meaty project you know really needs to get done?

One of the hardest truths to learn about the world of work, whether you are a W-2 employee or an entrepreneur like me, is that all the parts of your day are “real” work. Talking to HR, organizing your files, and other clerical or administrative things are valuable and worthwhile.

It all comes down to what you value as work and what you perceive as worthwhile tasks.

We rarely have the luxury of crossing things off and feeling like we’ve finished everything we wanted to finish in a given day. While we like to conceptualize our to-do list as comprising of concrete, bite-sized tasks, there are so many parts of our jobs – like building relationships with people – that are difficult to define into checklist friendly, simple tasks.

Things like building the trust of a new coworker, developing an idea to solve a problem, or maintain an organized calendar require continuous dedication and strategy spread out over long periods of time.

In order to break the cycle of feeling like you didn’t get very much work done in a day…

What you value as work has to be redefined.

It may not be as satisfying to look back over the workday and not see a tangible result of the hours you can’t get back. When you look back and only see only phone calls or emails it’s easy to feel like nothing substantial or important happened, but this is all part of the entrepreneurial life.

Time must be made for the tasks that don’t leave an immediate trace behind but are nonetheless paving roads for the future, even if those roads aren’t yet visible.

In any given workday, there is:

  • Creative work>Brainstorming
  • Busy work>Administration
  • Growth work>Long term planning
  • Management work >Supervision
  • Collaboration
  • Research
  • Selling

All can be equally intense or important depending on the day and everyone prefers one over the others. This means when a workday is spent on an area of work you don’t value as strongly, you are more apt to feel like you didn’t complete anything worthwhile.

Some of us feel energized working with our teams, building up our direct reports, and helping other people solve problems, while we dread updating spreadsheets and writing up proposals.

Some us feel like the most satisfying work are those clerical tasks that they can definitely say, “This is complete!” while we feel like we wasted the entire day if we spent too much time in conversation with others.

And when you don’t adhere to it you need to cut yourself a break and take a look at what you’re truly valuing as work so you don’t feel paralyzed. If you continually look back over the day and think you didn’t do anything of value because you love creative work but spent the day doing busy work you can easily fall into a slump.

You might think you’re not moving forward; you might think you’re bad at running your business; you might start the path toward quitting; you might simply think you have no idea what you’re doing.

Recognize that your work output is going to vary and each type (creative, busy, growth, and management) has its place and its value. Each is an important arm of being an entrepreneur or an employee. 

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