Meta-work: Why you’re always busy with nothing to show for

I’ve got a confession.

I write tasks on my to-do list just to check them off.

And I know you do that too.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a little momentum to put some wind in your sails. After all, Honest Abe wisely proclaimed:

โ€œIf I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.โ€

But what’s really happening is meta-work. Low-value you work that doesn’t move you any closer to your goals. And it comes in many flavors.

The many flavors of meta-work

I’m very guilty of meta-work. (I’m also guilty of bike-shedding.)

I read Reddit threads about how to edit TikToks even though I don’t have a TikTok account. (Yet.)

I read books about customer research (and Jobs to be done), but don’t conduct any customer interviews.

I watch videos about learning design, but haven’t updated our website in years.

It turns out many RadReaders are also Master Meta-Workers. Here’s what they shared:


I watch Brazilian Jiu Jitsu rolls instead of making it to class.


I read books about meditation instead of meditating.


I read books about parenting instead of spending quality time with the kids.


I read books about writing instead of writing.

It turns out that meta-work extends well beyond the RadReads community:

What is meta-work (and why do we do it)?

Meta-work is the sneaky step-sibling of procrastination. It may actually be more nefarious.

You see, when you’re down a Kardashian-inspired Instagram rabbit hole, at least you’ve admitted to yourself that you’ve let go.

Your brain may need a break. Or just a quick burst of dopamine between meetings.

Applying the $10K Work matrix, with the Kardashians you’re squarely in the land of $10 Work.

But with meta-work, you’re in the land of $100 Work. Yes, it’s much better to read books about parenting than to watch Logan Paul reels – but it’s still a distraction. It’s not moving you closer to your goals, dreams and desired life. (And to be clear, this isn’t a critique of rest and leisure; it’s an inquiry into our escapist tendencies.)

So what’s behind the distraction?

Are you burnt out?

Are you confused about a project’s next action?

Are you scared of failing? Or being judged?

Are you unclear about your goals?

Do you actually know what makes you happy?

The next time you step into meta-work, ponder these $10K questions – with a healthy dose of grace and curiosity.

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