It’s easy to be busy; it’s hard to be productive, and the two terms are different. Raise your hand if you’ve spent entire days answering “quick” email after “quick” email; spent hours in your task manager organizing your tasks for productivity; spent a half-day organizing tidying up old design files; or looked back on your week and realized you worked your ass off… but you’re not really sure what you actually accomplished.

Bad news, those with raised hands: you’re a victim of false hustle.

Don’t worry… I have been too; everyone falls into the false hustle trap at one point. It’s not intentional – after all, there’s a lot of work to do in a day – but false hustle can torpedo our business goals and ultimately our motivation at work.

Here’s what I mean by false hustle, and how to avoid it.

false hustle

What is False Hustle?

“False hustle” is a term that has origins in baseball. When Sammy Sosa would sprint from the dugout to the outfield, but then jog after a ground ball or a fly ball, he’s false hustling. Basically, he’s expending energy and “working hard”, but not in the right areas. Not where it matters.

Here’s my modified definition for us non-steroid-injecting office workers:

False hustle is when you expend your energy on tasks that don’t ultimately move the needle towards your goals.

You can’t know what false hustle is, or isn’t, if you don’t know what your goals are – yearly, quarterly, monthly, even weekly goals. We only have so many hours in a week to reach our goals, so we need to make optimal use of that time. You know as well as I do that those hours go fast, too – whether or not you’re running a design agency, or clocking time as a front-end web developer, or really any other position in the mix. So, when we hustle without direction – when we succumb to false hustle – we make it all the more likely we’ll miss our goals.

And when we miss our goals, our motivation tanks. Suffice to say, life is more enjoyable when we’re motivated.

Let’s keep it that way.

Avoiding False Hustle & Moving the Needle

If we unpack goals – big ones – they’re made up of strategies and tactics. At the end of the week, if we’re working smart and not working on time-consuming, non-progressive tasks, we should be able to look back at what we accomplished and line up those accomplishments with either a tactic or strategy we’re working towards.

Here’s a military-based example from Wikipedia that explains goals vs. strategy vs. tactics:

If, for example, the overall goal is to win a war against another country, one strategy might be to undermine the other nation’s ability to wage war by preemptively annihilating their military forces. The tactics involved might describe specific actions taken in specific locations, like surprise attacks on military facilities, missile attacks on offensive weapon stockpiles, and the specific techniques involved in accomplishing such objectives.

While I get you’re probably not driving a tank to the office every day, the example still stands as helpful in my books.

But getting back to false hustle – how can we actually know we’re moving the needle? All I do is ask myself a few simple questions every Friday at 4pm:

  1. What did I accomplish this week?
  2. Did I move the needle towards my monthly/quarterly goals? How?
  3. What can I do next week to move the needle further?

Then, I block off the upcoming week accordingly. Literally that means I hop into Google Calendar and block chunks of time off (e.g. 10am – noon on Monday) for specific tasks that tie into my overall tactics, strategies, and ultimately goals, for the following week. For me, it’s a simple way to keep moving ahead with purpose.

How Should I Be Spending My Time?

This isn’t just about agency owners or freelancers; the whole idea of avoiding false hustle, and moving the needle, is one that works best when adopted by everyone in an agency. Every great place to work has a big goal; a vision that motivates the whole team to work towards. It’s up to everyone, then, to be self-aware about their work and make decisions that move that needle.

It’s about developers challenging themselves to learn something new – to try a different solution – for yet another straightforward CMS-powered website. It’s about designers spending downtime learning new skills, or designing something for open-source release that will benefit the community and raise the profile of the shop. It’s about any member of the team feeling empowered to question the CEO / Principal / WhateverFancyTitle when they feel they’re being asked to do work that doesn’t move the needle.

In the end, it’s about asking ourselves how we should be spending our time to help make steps towards that big, exciting, motivating vision – and then acting on it.

All of this isn’t to say those menial tasks like answering emails or cleaning the coffee machine don’t need to be done; they do, and maybe they are actually progressing us towards our goals. But it’s too easy to fool ourselves into equating busy with productive; to fool ourselves into thinking our hustle is moving the needle.

So ask yourself: are you moving the needle? Or false hustling?
photo credit: _Untitled-1 via photopin cc