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How to Stop being "busy" and Start being Productive!

Productivity Quote: "From the time we're born until we die, we're kept busy with artificial stuff that isn't important." - Tom Ford


“I have been working ALL DAY but have gotten nothing done!” Have you ever said or thought the phrase above? This phrase and the feeling and emotions associated with it are signs that you have had a busy day rather than a productive one. When striving to be productive or increase our productivity, we have to be adamant that we do not conflate busyness or “movement” with productive action. But what is the difference and how can you transition from being busy to being productive? While both busy and productive work both involve doing things, the difference lies in WHAT you are working on versus HOW MUCH you are working on or HOW MUCH you are working through it. Let’s define both terms and glean what we can from each word's definition. Busy can be defined as, “having a great deal to do” when used as an adjective or “keep occupied” when used as a verb. Both of these definitions highlight the amount of work done but lack the specificity in WHAT was worked on. Having a great deal to do can be a sign that we have not gotten clear on what we need to be doing. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, stated that “If you have more than 3 priorities, you have none.” When we have our hands in multiple “pots” we can overcommit the energy, action, and time we can allocate to each project and the associated tasks. This leads to not having enough resources to make any meaningful progress on an initiative because we have several other initiatives that we have to touch base with or maintain, leading to an overwhelming sense of stress and busyness ultimately resulting in the stagnation in the progress of our projects. You end up doing a lot of things and exhibiting a lot of movement but are not progressing forward. Contrast this with productive, which is defined as, “effective in bringing about” or “yielding results, benefits, or profits”. Notice there is no designator defining HOW MUCH got done (unlike busy), only WHAT got done (yielding results). Productivity, therefore, is then the act of bringing about (or moving closer to) a desired result rather than how much you worked on or how long you worked. A day when you only complete one task that directly moves you closer to a goal that you are trying to achieve is a more productive day than one filled with movement and action directed to tasks that will not. This is key to remember when striving to improve your productivity in the workplace. We have to make sure we are not allowing “busy” activities (regardless of how “productive” may feel) to fully consume our days by first discovering and then prioritizing our truly productive actions. Below are 4 activities you can perform which will help you transition from busy to productive. 1. Set and maintain goals “Should we go East or West?” The question has no true answer as it is currently constructed. Either answer is acceptable and, because of this, we cannot be upset or complain if we end up someplace we don’t desire to be. Without having a destination in mind, every option has the potential to be the correct one and we lack the frame of reference to determine which is the right answer or more “valuable” than the other. To apply this to a work context, we have to make sure that we have goals we are trying to achieve and that we are keeping these goals in mind as we select tasks to perform each workday. Only when we have goals to compare and contrast our potential actions, can we determine what our most effective and productive action can be for the day. This allows us to design our days rather than being reactive and blindly allowing tasks that occupy the time that our most productive tasks could reside in. Takeaway: It is IMPOSSIBLE to be productive without goals. 2. Say “No” more How do you prevent “busy work” or non-productive activities from consuming your day? By saying, “No” to them. Saying “No” may be a new or scary experience for you, especially if you have had negative results with it in the past but it is still necessary to say when non-productive actions try to encroach on your time. Remember the duality that exists in every decision you make. By saying “no” to busy work and unproductive actions, it allows you to say “Yes” more to productive actions that lead to the results and goals you are striving to achieve. Therefore saying “no” is not just good for you (Less busywork and more productive action), it is good for your department (Your most important work is produced quickly and with high quality), your company (The work you produce will benefit the company as a whole) and the world at large (Your company can provide better service to those who rely on it). Takeaway: Say “No” to busy so that you can say “Yes” to productive. 3. Plan your days in advance What if you had a resource that showed you what your most productive tasks to complete during your workday are and when you should work on them? Being productive would become as easy as following the plan you have set for yourself. Well, you can when you plan your days! When we plan our days, it allows us to choose, not only what we SHOULD be working on, but also when we will be working on it. This level of clarity enables you to enter into your workday with confidence because you have selected what your most productive actions are and when you should be working on them. If nature (work) abhors a vacuum, dictating how your day is spent in advance, you prevent empty spaces in your calendar from being filled with busy work that prevents you from getting to your most important activities. Takeaway: The things that get scheduled are the things that get done. 4. Review your daily actions The last method is the power of daily productivity calibration. In the same way, we understand that calibrating machinery can help maintain or improve overall performance, reviewing and calibrating our performance and productivity at the end of each workday can help us to reinforce the positive and productive actions we make each day, identify areas where we can improve, and implement ways to make that improvement the next day. The framework I share with my clients is the 3-1-1 Review Method. In this framework, at the end of each workday, you write down your 3 “wins”, 1 area of improvement, and 1 way you can make sure you resolve that improvement the next day. As an example, your 3-1-1 Review may look like this: 3 wins

  1. Planned My day in advance

  2. Turned off my phone while in meeting

  3. Got 2 Highly Focused hours of work done on Project XYZ

1 Improvement

  • getting distracted by Sharon’s project proposal for 90min

1 way to make improvement

  • Tell Sharon to set up a meeting with me next time she needs to discuss her project

The 3-1-1 is a simple way to look back at your day to analyze and calibrate or correct your actions in it. This allows each day to be more productive than the last and systematically evaluating if your day was busy or productive. Remember Pearson’s Law, “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially”. If you are striving to improve your productivity, taking time at the end of each workday to measure (analyze) and record (3-1-1 Method) your daily actions and implementing them, will allow your productivity to increase and needless busyness to subsist. Takeaway: That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.

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