At the top right of my business blog, WorkIzWar, the first thing that you see is a hamster. His name is Humbert. Humbert has a little wheel to run on, a water bottle to drink from, and you can feed him food pellets. In fact, he will follow your mouse around, watching and waiting for you to do so. Right above his head are these words: 'Waste time with Humbert?'
A digital hamster might seem like a frivolous, even juvenile, thing to include on a business blog, but he serves a very important purpose. During the course of our days, we all come across Humberts. Sometimes they are people who like to chat about non-work issues, or work issues that were decided a long time ago. Sometimes they are tasks that are urgent (just like Humbert, they want to be fed), but not important. Often, they are simply busy work that we do to put off tackling difficult or unpleasant tasks.
All of them prevent forward movement - what I like to call momentum. And all of them are career-killers. Some of them are even business-killers.
Do yourself a favor. Get out a piece of paper. Draw a line down the center, so that you have 2 columns. On the left side, write down everything that you do or become engaged in - every conversation, every phone call, email, task... literally everything that you do today. At the end of the day, in the right-hand column, put an 'X' for everything that's a 'Humbert'. It's easy to define: Did the activity or conversation move you forward? No? Then it's a Humbert.
Do this for the rest of your week. Look how many Humberts there are! If you're like most people, at least a third of what you do is no more helpful to you, your career, and or organization than feeding an imaginary hamster! Who has that kind of time to waste?
Humbert does. And he'll always be right there, waiting patiently for you to come back.
(Update: Humbert died of neglect because so many of you took this article and applied it. Good for you! So we've procured a new hamster named Harry to continue to confound and distract you. Good luck.)