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Hitesh Porwal

Executive Coach | Wealth Coach

21 August2019

This era is that of DIY (or Do it yourself). The internet is abuzz with self-help information and DIY guides to success that often make tall claims of guaranteeing success. Naturally, one tends to be swayed and ends up whiling away a lot of time on browsing informative podcasts, videos and books that talk about how easy it is to build yourself a great career.

But is it really that easy? Think again…

The simple hack is to know that what you consider solid action, say reading a self-help book, could well be mere activities. Now you could ask me “Aren’t they alike?” And I will tell you, “No. They are not. Rather, they’re far from it.”


Action vs. Activity: Knowing the difference

There is a fine line of difference between action and what we might mistakenly consider action; that is activity.

Action is what moves our personal and business lives forward, produces what we actually want out of our lives, and achieves our goals. Simply put, actions are purpose-driven and strategic activities that get the job done.

On the other hand, we have activity – something that we tend to pass off as action. However, the truth is activities comprise of everything we fill our lives with, only to delay taking the right step, in the right direction.

Strangely enough, activities seem more lucrative and easy, for the simple reason that they often lull us into a false sense of urgency and satisfaction. For instance, activity is like signing up for the gym. While you can say that you did take the first step, what better would it be for your body if you eventually never made it to the gym?

Let’s consider this: As an executive, focused and productive thinking should ideally feature at the top of your priorities. But unfortunately, ‘thinking’ often appears lazy, as compared to rushing around, attending meetings, answering phone calls and replying to a horde of emails.

Bear in mind that there is nothing wrong with pursuing activities as long as they are performed with awareness and in moderation. We all need to execute a host of ancillary activities to support a bigger goal, but knowing which tasks would take you towards that goal is critical.

As an executive, you can be sure you’ve fallen into the activity trap if:

  •  You don’t find time to think constructively
  • You work through lunch and don’t have a specific finishing time in the evening
  • You can never devote time to your personal life. If your personal life isn’t a top priority, what are the odds that the rest of your priorities would make sense?
  • You are always doing things that could have been done by anyone else. Ideally, you should be focusing on things that require your expertise.


Activity and Action: The Face-off 

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Action, by definition, is difficult. That’s the reason action often results in personal growth. It pushes you out of your comfort zone. Activities merely keep you busy.

While actions help you regain control of your goals, activities, on the other hand, feed procrastination. If you feel empowered after completing a task, chances are it was an action.


Now that you know how to tell actions from activities:

Start –Thinking about whether time spent at your workplace is consumed in activities or actions

Increase – Your time spent on actionsActivities may be necessary; but you should consciously limit time on these as they may not be forward-looking.

Stop –Activities that can be completely replaced with actions. For instance, free-wheeling gossiping and long coffee-breaks at workplace may seem pleasurable, but associated trade-off costs can be huge as well.

Limit –The number of weekly update calls, long drawn-out meetings and time spent on smartphones at workplace.


“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” – Alvin Toffler


Time spent on social media during office hours - is that action or activity?

A closely related topic is the extensive use of social media by employees at workplace. Is the need to stay constantly connected, for reasons other than work, an activity or action? Can watching a personal development related YouTube video during office hours be considered an acceptable action?  

Studies show that on an average, an employee spends between 30-120 minutes on social media related activities during office hours. This indulgence results in approximately 13% productivity loss.

Indulging in social media and the resultant slacking is proof that unfortunately ‘activities’ get priority over ‘actions’. Studies suggest that apart from a significant drop in productivity, ‘social media mania’ of employees at their workplace has also escalated loss of confidential information and prodded the spilling of misinformation, sometimes through the grapevine.

Studies also show that on an average, office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes. Once distracted, it takes around 25 minutes to get back on track.These distractions are generally caused by activities that you may not give much thought to, without realizing the implicit cost. Eliminating or keeping a check on such activities can have a profound impact on productivity and progress.

I’d leave you with five other examples that you might have had mistakenly considered to be fool-proof actions all this while.

  1. Long hours of hard work do not automatically qualify as action. Hard work in the direction of your goal amounts to action.
  2. Reading self-help books is little more than activity, unless of course you can put the lessons learned to good use.
  3. Conducting routine team meetings is not action. It would be, only if there’s some measurable progress in the direction of your goal.
  4. Checking and responding to routine official emails is an activity, not action
  5. Planning is not action. It is a step in the process of acting, and hence, an activity.



Whether it is striving for the coveted title, earning a fantastic bonus, winning an important deal, or effecting a successful career change, putting your tasks through the test of actions vs. activities can certainly take you to where you’ve always wanted to arrive – faster than your peers and rivals alike.


Hitesh Porwal is a certified Executive Coach and founder at WealthPal ( You can reach him at