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If You Want to Be Truly Productive Instead of Just Busy, You Have to Stop Doing This Busy work ruins your day-to-day. Here's why we have to fight biology to be productive.

By Aytekin Tank Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Distraction. Boredom. Forgetfulness.

Sounds like some dull film you're watching? What if I told you that this is your brain on low-impact tasks? You're probably overly familiar with the above kind of busy work: endless emails and to-do lists, mind-numbing data you have to manually input.

If you ever struggle to do what matters (versus what's easy), you can blame the urgency effect: Your brain likes to close loops, so it seeks tasks you can finish fast over those with long-term value.

Simply put: We have to fight biology to be productive, instead of just busy.

When writing Automate Your Busywork, the urgency effect bothered me a lot because of how often it popped up.

Consider a usual day at work. Say you have a few hours in the morning before your first meeting, so you decide to quickly check off items on your to-do list rather than work on higher-value tasks. That rush of accomplishment gives you the feeling of satisfaction that you're progressing, but in reality, you're just wasting valuable time.

An added twist? If you're stressed out, it only makes the urgency effect worse. So, if you're stretched for time, it's best to leave low-impact tasks last.

Related: 3 Mundane Tasks You Should Automate to Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff

Why multitasking isn't the answer

In his illuminating story for The Guardian, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin puts it more severely. "Although we think we're doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion."

When I first founded Jotform, I was an expert multitasker. It felt good at the moment to feel like I could take on so much at the same time. But after a few years of running myself into the ground, I realized there had to be a better way. I was juggling too much to prioritize what was most meaningful.

The truth is that it feels good to be an expert juggler, but frantically trying to do ALL the things at once also makes us a lot less efficient.

According to Levitin, there's a physiological factor that comes into play. "Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking."

He adds: "Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation."

This explains why you feel the need to immediately respond to that phone notification instead of waiting until your lunch break. Even when it's not urgent, that sense of completion gives you a hit of dopamine.

Related: Lacking Balance in Your Business? 5 Ways Automation Can Help You Achieve Peace of Mind

Focusing on low-impact tasks ruins your career

When building my company, I faced a lot of barriers. For example, when Google decided to come into the same form-building arena, I braced myself for the worst. But I was also forced to become more strategic and creative with my time.

It's part of what led me to write an entire book about the benefits of automation. Rather than spend my time on endless low-impact tasks, I made sure I was dedicating my energy and resources to what mattered most:

  • Hiring top talent
  • Fostering a positive work culture
  • Creating a top-quality product
  • Making our users' lives easier

I refused to take on anything that deviated from these categories. It's the same advice I give to all my mentees: Focus on your high-value tasks first if you want to advance your career.

Low-impact tasks might not seem so problematic, but they end up diluting your mission and purpose and ultimately holding you back from your true potential.

Keep in mind: What are your primary endeavors? What gets you excited about working on a task? More likely than not, it's not typing in manual data or ticking off a to-do list. You should be placing all your energy into tasks that make you excited.

Related: 3 Bad Habits Most Entrepreneurs Are Guilty Of — And the Simple Solution for Stopping

The bottom line

You might think that your productivity (or lack thereof) is your biggest problem. But I'm here to tell you that that's false. Spending hours upon hours on mindless busy work like low-impact tasks is the real culprit. Although automation won't whittle down your workload, it will help you build systems to dramatically change your focus. Because, ultimately, building a long-lasting business is about creating something of value. And we can only achieve that by being conscious and aware of what we're bringing to the table.

Related: From Mundane to Magic: The Incredible Benefits of Automation for Small Business Owners

Aytekin Tank

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Entrepreneur; Founder and CEO, Jotform

Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform and the author of Automate Your Busywork. Tank is a renowned industry leader on topics such as entrepreneurship, technology, bootstrapping and productivity. He has nearly two decades of experience leading a global workforce.

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