The Distinction Between Meaningless Activity and Meaningful Actions, And Why It Can Make All The Difference

In today’s age of always connected devices and nonstop notifications, we all have more to do each day than the hours can fit. Crossing items off the to-do list always feels good and gives one a feeling of accomplishment, but have we ever stopped and asked ourselves – accomplishment towards what?

The ‘Busy’ Trap

Whenever I have stopped to ask myself that question, I have realised that I have fallen into the trap of being busy rather than being productive. Being busy often relieves us from the fear of sitting still and the pain of conscious thinking, while the really important tasks often gets neglected.

We are often sucked into doing meaningless activities, either through algorithms running on our “smart” devices, or through habits we have formed by emulating our peers rather than consciously choosing them. In other words, we waste most of our time doing meaningless activities that we have no time left for what really matters.

Meaningless Activity vs Meaningful Actions

Meaningless vs Meaningful

Everything that we do can be divided into either meaningless activity or meaningful actions. What I mean by meaningless activity is anything we do to only keep ourselves busy. Example – checking email and social media, hanging out with friends, or anything we do without a specific intention in mind.

In contrast with the above, any activity which adds meaning to your life, or takes you in the direction of a conscious intention (or a goal), is what I would term meaningful. It could be a business trip for one, or spending time with their family for another.

What is meaningless and meaningful is different for everyone. Only you can define that. No-one else can make that distinction for you.

We are often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. Only by being aware of our decisions we can be deliberate about them to move our life in the direction we want to go.

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S Thompson

Focus and Prioritise

Research has shown that not having the courage to live a life true to ourselves, not expressing our feelings when we should have, and working too hard are the top three regrets people have at the end of their lives.

Doing things that we find meaningful is essential to our well being. But how many of us spend time wondering about what gives our life meaning, and what is really important to us?

Three Questions

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What need can you serve?

I believe the intersection of answers to the above three questions will be the most meaningful work for you. Once you have these answers, it will give you the clarity to prioritise tasks and the courage to say “No” to anything that doesn’t align with what you discover.

Having the clarity about the “why” before the “what” and “how” of any action will ensure you create focused output that moves you forward, rather than effort that just takes you around in circles. So the next time you think you have no time to follow your dreams, you know you have fallen into the trap of being busy with meaningless activities.

The Most Important Thing in a Startup – Avoiding Distractions

From whatever little experience I have with my own startup and working with a few others, I can say that the most important, and difficult task in any startup is to maintain focus and avoiding distractions. Nothing kills startups like distractions. Distractions may be a side project you start doing for some extra cash, or a new idea which suddenly pops in your mind and you want to have a shot at it.

Do One Thing

If a startup can do one thing, and do it as good as nobody else can do it, your job is half done. Doing more than one thing is fine in big companies because firstly, they have the resources to spend, and secondly, they can afford a little distraction. But a startup can’t. So do one thing at a time, and do it fantabulously well.

Can you focus on what is REALLY important?

Can you focus on what is REALLY important?


Startups are often credited with innovation, but it is very critical to innovate in the main focus area of your business. If you are working on creating a product, and somebody comes up with a great innovative idea to market it, you have to say NO to it (for now) and continue focussing and innovating in your most important task, which is developing the product. Because once you have your hands and head in two different areas, you might end up with two half-baked implementations instead of one great one.

About Marketing and Sales

Marketing and sales are no doubt important. But while creating the product, you have to make sure you build a great product first. If you have only limited resources, it is better to have a great product first and a sales team second, than to have a sales team ready to sell a half-baked product. Many people talk about social media marketing on websites like facebook and twitter. My advice to them is that people are already talking in social media. Give them a reason to talk about your product by making the product exceptional. Nothing else is required.

The crux of the matter is that time is your most important asset in a startup. And since you will always be busy and occupied with the startup, when you agree to do things which are a little different from your focus area, you are sowing the seeds for trouble. Maybe in the short term the new idea looks promising, but in the long term your main focus area will end up suffering.

This is what Twitter co-founder Ev Williams has to say –

“After my first company died, I did an inventory of the projects I had worked on in the last year. There were something like 30 projects that I had started on and not finished. My total weakness was focusing on things.”

Now, the distractions I am talking about does not include the time off you take as a break to recharge your batteries. So if take time out to practice guitar in the evening, or watch a movie, or read a book, by all means do that. Leisure time is very much important so that you give your best in your work time.