Are You Busy or Productive?
Are you busy or productive?
Time and time again when I ask somebody how they are, they reply with a single word: “Busy.”
Normal workplace hours have been extended well into the evening as people check and respond to their emails. Being “unreachable” is the mortal sin of business.
Is being busy helping everyone make a lot more money? Are we happier than any previous generation? Are we producing at a record level? Sadly, none of these things are true.
The next time you answer a question about how you are with “busy,” take a minute to consider whether being busy is the same to you as being productive.
If it is, then perhaps all the things you are doing are worthwhile to bring you to a significant goal. If it not, perhaps some of the busy tasks need to be taken off your plate.
My work often takes me to the busy streets of Toronto’s downtown, and it looks like everyone is in a great hurry to get somewhere. They text as they walk, they look like they are speaking to themselves as they respond to questions coming into their earbuds, and they are all moving with great confidence.
Sometimes I watch them as I sip a refreshment from inside a little café and wonder if they all know exactly where they are going and if there is a purpose to their journey.
It took me many years of working very hard through long days and nights to suddenly realize that there is a distinct difference between being busy and being productive. Now I marvel at what gets done every week, every month and every year, and yet somehow I am calmer and more mindful of what I am doing throughout the days.
I learned the hard way that if you constantly run full-speed ahead at the gait of the busy, you will ultimately run out of energy. Racing here and there is a distraction, not a production.
Here are five ways I learned to distinguish the difference between being busy and being productive, and knowing them has made a vast difference in what I am now able to accomplish.
#1. Edit your priorities.
If you look at your daily planner and you have more than one or two priorities that day, you are busy, but not necessarily productive. If you have more than 10 priorities, I can tell you right now you won’t accomplish all of them, and you need to take a reality check with your planning.
You will end each day feeling like a failure as you dutifully reschedule priorities and you will make a mockery of the word.
To be most productive, get one big thing (a priority) done very day. If you are super-skilled and have a great support team, you might even get two big things done.
Do those priorities in the morning. In the afternoon cluster the other smaller items together and keep it all rolling.
When a client calls with a new priority project, break it down as much as possible to little projects. But if there needs to be one priority day, just mark it off and no matter who calls, tell them you can address their priority quickly, just not this day. Book it at the first day you do not already have a priority listed.
#2. Edit your “yes” responses.
That leads to the second way to stay sane and productive in a busy world. When a client requests something, and you are running a small business, your immediate knee-jerk response is to say “yes,” even though the minute you say it you know you will have to work that night, or that weekend.
The longer you stay in business, the more you learn that very few things in life are true emergencies, other than medical calls to save lives. Reports that the client would like to have to study during their weekend, but they forgot to call you about until Friday morning, can be delivered Monday afternoon with an executive summary and still get them through their tight spot.
#3. Spend more time on clarifying what is needed; less on doing it.
Another rookie mistake is to take the assignment and run with it, without taking the time to clearly understand what exactly is needed and for what purpose.
Sometimes there is a simpler way to meet the demand if you take a few extra minutes to talk it through with your client.
#4. Vow now to never answer the “how are you” question again with “busy.”
Busy is not a condition; it is a self-created state of faux emergency. Say that you are optimistic, creative, have a day of innovative thinking, or that you are productive.
Busy is like a door slamming on even the best intentioned person who calls you. Nobody wants to add to the burden of a busy person.
When people ask me if I have a busy week ahead, instead of instinctively saying “yes, very busy,” I now say that I have a balanced week with some great projects to work on. Just saying it makes me feel calmer.
I accept now that if every day I can complete one big project, it feels better than a harassing day of multi-tasking.
#5. The productive me stops making excuses.
I can either do something one day or another day, but it will get done and with the best effort I can make.
I have discovered that it is fine to try to do smaller things faster and easier. Guests coming for supper on Friday night? How about a barbecue and bakery pie instead of me spending an hour I don’t have making a lasagna and cake from scratch?
House not quite the way I want it? Enlist the help of older children or a cleaning service if you’ve got the bucks. No time to read a book I really want to finish? Make it my Saturday priority?
Life has evolved to a pace of business that few of us can sustain. We need to practice kindness to ourselves and simplify routine tasks as much as possible so that we really can focus on our priorities.
As you plan next week, and you see all of the tasks demanding your attention, select three priorities that will really make a difference if you complete them next week.
Then check everything else and see if it really has to be done at all. Work with what is still on the list to delegate, re-schedule or work in after the big job is done.
That’s the secret of having a productive week.
Paula Morand is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and impact in a more bold fashion.
24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 15 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee. Check out Paula’s bestselling books on Amazon: “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything”, “Dreaming BIG and Being BOLD: Inspiring stories from Trailblazers, Visionaries and Change Makers” book series; and her newly released “Bold Vision: A Leader’s Playbook for Managing Growth”.
For speaking inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free 1-888-502-6317.