Does this sound familiar to you? You’re not living the life you want to live—the life you know you’re capable of. You know it’s possible. You just don’t seem to get any traction.

You have a plan. You have a roadmap of how to get to there from here, but life gets in the way. You can’t turn on a dime, so you have to fulfill your current obligations and gradually transform this current life into your vision of what life could be five years from now—a five-year clock that never seems to count down.

Underlying it all is one common refrain: “Why can I never seem to get anything done?”

The truth is, you are. You’re accomplishing more than you realize. What you’re doing just isn’t what you planned on doing. And it’s not taking you the direction you want it to.

Instead of the world-changing work we want to be doing, there are three kinds of work that creep in and take over our time. Pretty soon, we’re not spending our days the way we should. Where our days lead us, the years will follow.

  • Shadow work. This is the work you do that isn’t written down. Consider what you do as a parent. (If you don’t have kids, imagine what it’s like, then crank it up a notch or five.) You do a ton of things every day to keep them fed, dressed, and on their way to being functioning adults. This rarely gets written down, but it’s still there. It reduces the time you have available for productive work. Some days, you just don’t have room to get more done. You’re already getting more productive work done than you give yourself credit for.
  • Sideways work. This is work that’s keeping us busy chasing the promise of results. There is a lot of wasted effort. It’s like heading east by tacking between a heading northeast and heading southeast. You’re heading east, but you’d make better time if you could just head east, right? Stop wasting your energy on old policies and outdated procedures! Figure out what’s pulling you sideways and get rid of it.
  • Fake work. Fake work isn’t even trying. This is work we come up with to justify not getting real work done. It’s the adult version of getting up to sharpen your pencil (for the fifth time) so you don’t have to do math problems. You’re not focused on getting the results, no matter how long it takes; you’re focused on putting in the time, no matter what results you get. At this point, productivity has become dead to you. Look, it happens to all of us sometimes. Get throught it. Get your head on straight. Get back in the game.

Three separate poblems. We get frustrated because we think we aren’t making progress, but we are. We’re making progress, but at a fraction of the rate we could be. We’ve taken our eyes off the prize and we’re just letting time progress without us.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated that you aren’t making progress, take a step back. Which type of anti-work is holding you back? The solution could be as simple as acknowledging everything you really are doing or as complex as redefining the way an entire industry works.

Whatever you do, don’t stop. You dream that dream for a reason. Results don’t happen by themselves. Time will progress, with or without you. It’s up to you where you are five years from now.

Question: Why can’t you get anything done? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.