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Work is about getting things done – action. So when we’re doing, doing, doing we are usually happy and confident we are being effective.

But executive coach Amy Jen Su warns that may not always be true. Our day may be hectic, but our achievements minor. We may be falling into what she calls the four pitfalls of doing:

The I’ll just do more pitfall:

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In this mindset, you believe that as long as you keep working harder and harder you’ll be productive, adding value for your team or organization, moving ahead of others, and getting more out of life. It’s a hamster wheel of activity, but not necessarily leading to results, and often you’ll feel exhausted and hit a ceiling when it comes to promotions. “Your boss begins to question if you have the chops to do anything other than churn out high volumes of work. You’ve cemented your status as the ‘worker bee’ and can’t progress to the next level,” she writes in her book The Leader You Want To Be.

The I’ll just do it now pitfall:

That first pitfall relates to volume whereas this is about time. You want to get things done ASAP – or quicker. “You begin to cope by believing that as long as you use your speed and ability to push, then all will be well. The thrill of crossing things off the list does give some temporary relief – until you realize the list is endless,” she notes. You are in a constant state of emergency. Your team is suffering from your obsession with urgency. If you let your guard down a bit and slow up you might even get sick. As for promotions, you could become pigeon-holed as the fix-it person who isn’t strategic enough for more senior roles.

The I’ll just do it myself pitfall:

Yes, there are things you can do better than others or love doing – but don’t get carried away. “When we refuse to wean ourselves off a task and insist on doing it all ourselves, we can create bottlenecks that are detrimental to ourselves, to our teams, and to the goals we’re trying to achieve,” she says. Also be alert to a tendency to try to rescue others, which may be deeply satisfying but also could be deeply wrong, as is the measure of control you relish from doing it yourself. When caught up in this do-it-myself mindset you can inhibit your growth and that of others.

The I’ll just do it later pitfall:

While those three traps are about coping by exerting your will or finding a way to feel you are in control this is about procrastinating or putting yourself last as you brush off the important things that matter to you. Beneath this, she notes, could lie conflict avoidance, or an inability to set boundaries with others, or a fear of failure. Whatever the cause, you will likely feel you aren’t fulfilling your potential. And that could be true, derailing your career path.

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She stresses these pitfalls can lead to a cycle of stress, ineffectiveness, negativity or feeling overwhelmed. In reading that list you may have realized you succumb to some of those pitfalls. She suggests taking some time to reflect on some project or initiative that is not heading in the direction you expected and identify which pitfalls may be at play. Consider the emotions or feelings the reflection brings up, the impact on you and others from this pitfall, and finally how you can shift out of the pitfall. Then do it right.

Quick hits

  • Modern communication tools have led to shortcuts in our writing but consultant Danny Rubin says in texts and e-mails you should start sentences with capital letters and capitalize proper nouns until the co-worker on the other end proves he/she prefers lower case words at all times. When the message thread includes clients, maintain proper rules of capitalization at all times – even if the other person is into lowercase writing and abbreviations.
  • If you’re prone to procrastinating blogger Ian McKenzie suggests getting a “nag buddy,” giving them permission to check in periodically to ensure you’re staying on track.
  • When asked for a productivity hack by Fast Company’s editor, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella quickly replied one of the things we sometimes confuse is all the things you should be doing versus all the things only you can do.
  • When job hunting a big question is how long you should wait to move on when you haven’t heard back from a potential employer. HR blogger Alison Green advises: “If I could control your brain (and the brain of every other job seeker), I would make you move on the minute after you send your application. There’s nothing to be gained by the agonizing and waiting and wondering – send the application and move on immediately. If they call, great. If they don’t, you’ve already moved on anyway.
  • “The only hard choice is the choice between two good things,” notes marketing consultant Roy Williams.

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