Real Work vs Fake Work


Hey friends,

One idea I’ve been thinking about recently is the difference between Fake Work and Real Work. I’ve come across the idea from a few different places, most recently the episodes about Paul Graham on the absolutely stellar Founders podcast.

Real Work is the real work. The work that takes you towards the things that actually matter to you. Fake Work is everything else you spend your time “working” on.

Here’s the issue – for a lot of us, we waste WAY more time way doing fake work than we do directly wasting time.

If you’re a beginner to productivity and focus, you might waste a lot of time, but you know that you waste a lot of time. These are the people who say “Gosh I really struggle to stay focused, and I often get distracted by social media”.

But then you get beyond that first hurdle. You get some success. Your grades improve. You become more productive. You get your business off the ground and things start to grow.

There’s an even bigger, more insidious hurdle you run into now. That’s the hurdle of Fake Work.

Let’s say you’re a student. The Time-Waster has a screen time of 10 hours per day. He’s always scrolling on social media, or refreshing the sports news, or making sure his response time on WhatsApp is under 57 seconds. He’s wasting time, but he knows it.

The Fake-Worker on the other hand, thinks he’s being super productive. He spends lots of time creating revision timetables. He meticulously colour-codes his notes. He highlights his textbooks in rainbow pastel colours. He makes sure he gets up every 23 minutes to take a break and make himself a coffee.

The Real Work of being a student is to figure out where the holes in your knowledge and understanding are, plug those holes, and test yourself along the way. But that’s Hard. It takes Work.

In the world of entrepreneurs, this is even more rife.

The Real Work is (often) to create a product and to sell the product.

The Fake Work is to make sure your website looks pretty. It’s to create content across social media with no way of attributing it back to the thing that really matters – sales. It’s to read dozens of books and listen to hundreds of hours of podcasts hoping to find that one nugget that’s going to magically level-up the business.

As my business has grown, and my work and life have become filled with more opportunities than I could possibly avail in a lifetime, I’ve realised that I spend way, way too much time doing Fake Work.

For me, the Real Work is basically in (a) learning stuff, (b) writing stuff, and (c) filming stuff. The Fake Work is tweaking the copy for a landing page. It’s making sure my website looks pretty. It’s reorganising my note-taking system in the hope that THIS time, something will stick and I’ll have the perfect Second Brain. It feels like work, but it’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

But here’s another issue – the key difference between Real Work and Fake Work is in whether it’s actually tackling the bottleneck to the goal. And that’s hard to figure out, because (a) it requires a goal, and (b) requires you to understand the bottleneck to the goal.

These days, I’m struggling to even define what the goal is. Since finishing writing my book (which has been my main goal for the past several years), I’ve felt a little purposeless. I’m continuing to make videos, record podcasts, write these newsletters, and give talks in various places. But it all feels a little… meandering? Purposeless? Empty?

I suspect that’s because I haven’t taken the time to sit down and figure out what the actual goal is that I’m moving towards. Yes the journey is what matters, but without a destination in mind, there is no journey. Just movement.

So as often seems to be the case with this entrepreneur / creator path that I’ve stumbled into, I have to ask myself: What do I actually want? What’s the goal? What’s the broader mission, or purpose, behind what I’m working on? Why am I doing this?

I don’t have a clear answer just yet, but these are the questions I’m going to take the time to think about this week with a little more blank space in my life to think, reflect and journal.

Have a great week!

Ali xx

PS: If you haven’t yet preordered my book, I’d love if you would consider doing so. It’s now available in lots of countries around the world, and the more preorders we can rustle up, the bigger a splash we can make when the book’s released 🙂

☕️ A newsletter I genuinely read every day

The one newsletter I actually look forward to reading every day is Morning Brew.

It’s a super informative and entertaining daily newsletter that covers the most important stories in business, technology, finance, and world news. Plus, it only takes five minutes to read and get an overview of all the things that I’m interested in.

If you’re interested in subscribing, it’s completely free and very accessible, with stories delivered to your inbox first thing in the morning.

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Thanks to Morning Brew for sponsoring this issue of Sunday Snippets 🙏

❤️ My Favourite Things this Week

💻 Course – Frame by Frame. My friend Nathaniel Drew (1.7 Million YouTube subscribers) has opened his animation & editing course, Frame by Frame, for the second time ever. It’s an incredible resource for anyone who wants level up and begin to edit, animate, or create video online as a pro or source of significant side income – and for this round, Nathaniel’s included a entire new mini-course on how he shoots his videos (his cameras, lenses, equipment & process). You can check out the course here. Use that exact link (or you won’t be offered a coupon code at checkout) + the discount code FRAME2ALI to get 20% off, as a special rate for subscribers of Sunday Snippets 🙂

📚 Book – I’ve nearly finished reading The Blade Itself, book #1 of The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. It’s great. I decided I wanted to make more time for reading fiction in my life, and decided to dive into this series after hearing tonnes of recommendations from friends. Hoping to finish it in the next week or so, so no spoilers please. What’s it about? Errrrr, hard to say succincntly, as with all epic fantasies… I’ve been describing it to friends as “swords and magic and stuff” which is the best I can do for now 🙂

✏️ Stationary Item – I’ve been reading increasingly more physical books recently, and found myself highlighting them and taking notes in the margins. I’ve enjoyed flagging these areas with a set of cheap, cute, pastel-coloured sticky tabs. It feels really good to see all the tabs sticking out of a book, and helps to revisit highlights when working on videos, writing etc.

🎙️ Podcast – I really enjoyed this interview that my friend Eric Siu did with Leila Hormozi. Lots of great advice around building teams, hiring, firing, management, operations, and a bunch of other skills around growing a business. I found the final bit around why founders want to step away from their own businesses particularly interesting, in terms of identifying specific pains. Great listening if you’re a founder 🙂

🍿 Video – Another friend, Matt D’Avella, absolutely smashed it out of the park with his latest video: I Tried Being a Dad for 30 Days. Great vibes, incredible storytelling, beautiful cinematic shots, and a whole lot of heart. Made me excited about potentially being a dad someday 👀

🎬 My New Videos

🏗️ I Tried 200 Productivity Tools, These Are The Best – I’ve tried hundreds of productivity tools over the past few years, so in this video I share all the ones I actually use on a day to day basis, in case you need any extra inspiration to improve your own productivity.

🎬 8 Surprising Habits that Made Me a Successful YouTuber – Over the years I’ve picked up some interesting habits around my YouTube channel that have helped me stay consistent, stay motivated and gain subscribers. In this video I’m going through my favourite 8.

✍️ Quote of the Week

“I think a lot of people, myself included, can sometimes get stuck. Like ‘They haven’t called me, so I’m not going to call them.’ If you want to talk to your friend just call them. You don’t have to play chicken about who’s going to take the first step.”

From How Friends Become Closer by Julie Beck. Resurfaced using Readwise.

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