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Why “Busy” Isn’t the Same Thing as “Productive” (And What to Do About It)

Published: Jan 10, 2017
Why “Busy” Isn’t the Same Thing as “Productive” (And What to Do About It)

Busyness is practically a disease today. We cram as much as we can into our limited time. Yet being busy isn’t the same as being productive.

Have you ever had days where you felt like you didn’t have a minute to spare, and yet you still felt that you didn’t accomplish anything?

There are many reasons for this, but the most important is a failure to prioritize and focus on the tasks that will really make a difference.

These are some of the common symptoms of busyness without productivity:

  • You’re worried today about being busy tomorrow.
  • You’re annoyed that the people around you never seem to be as busy as you are.
  • You spend your evenings thinking about all the stuff you didn’t get done today.
  • You can’t pay attention during conversations because you’re too busy thinking about all the things you have to get done.
  • You eat in your car.

If that sounds like you, try these ideas to free up time in your life and get things done:

1. Prioritize. Decide what the most important tasks are to accomplish today. If you don’t choose what you’re going to do today, you’re choosing to let the world decide your priorities for you. Being busy on your own terms is one thing but being busy according to someone else’s priorities is a different thing altogether. Dictate the direction of your day by making a decision before the day even starts.

2. Notice how you’re wasting time. Many times, we intentionally avoid doing what we know we should be doing. We don’t want to make that difficult phone call or work on that report we’ve been dreading for weeks.

  • We are all excellent at inventing other things to do that don’t really have a lot impact. Notice the things you do when you don’t want to do what you should be doing. It might be cleaning your desk, checking email, or getting coffee. When you notice your ‘stalling’ behaviors, it’s easier to catch yourself and get back on track.

3. Keep you to do list short. A good idea is to make a list of everything the really needs to get done, and then just focus on getting the top 3 things that need to be done today. That might not seem like a lot, but imagine what your to do list would look like today if you had been doing this exercise for the last 2 weeks.

  • The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of your work can be completed with 20% of the relevant actions. Focus on the most important stuff and you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done.

4. Eliminate the excess from your life. Avoid spending your time on activities that are optional unless you truly enjoy it. That means you shouldn’t spend your free time on that charity or club that doesn’t really matter to you. Strive to eliminate as many of the non-meaningful activities from your life as possible to leave room for the meaningful things.

5. Limit yourself. If you only allow yourself a limited amount of time to work on something, you’ll be forced to do the most important tasks first. The fear of not getting done in time will increase your efficiency.

6. Measure yourself. At the end of the day, ask yourself how busy you were. Ideally, you should have a full day, but you shouldn’t have an endless list of tasks to complete.

Life should be full, but that doesn’t mean being busy. If you’re too busy, it’s likely that you’re either spending too much time on things that don’t really matter to you or you’re spending too much time on tasks that aren’t productive.