4 Ways to Shift from Busy to Productive
I don’t know about you, but it seems like time is flying by these days.
I juggle a lot of details and activities in my work, so I try to do my best to stay on track and organized.
But, I’ve realized that as I get older, I’m getting less and less done than I’m used to. I’m sure there are plenty of listeners out there that can relate with that frustration.
So, I started looking at why it was that I was running all day and still not reaching my daily goals.
I was busy, but was I as productive as I should be?
Easy vs. Effective
I had to admit to myself that I was gravitating to the easier things: returning emails, research, organizing my office, or making calls. It looked more like the Hard Way Shown above. I might eventually get there, but I wasted a bunch of miles on the journey.
The stuff that really counted kept sliding from one day to the next.
Each night, as I reviewed my Task List, I got discouraged and mad at myself for getting distracted and swore the next day would be different.
I was on a mission. Only the next day wasn’t different. Sound familiar?
Yes, I was meeting deadlines, but I wasn’t charting new territory. There were several new projects that I wanted to dive into, some new computer skills I wanted to learn, and other projects.
Even if you’re retired and don’t work any longer, I’d bet you still have a long To-Do List you’ve been frustrated with as well.
Ask The Right Questions
So, how do we go from a life of “been there, done that” to a life that’s more productive and meaningful?
Well, it starts with making a true commitment to getting to the bottom of why we get distracted or can’t meet our goal expectations in the first place. It’s all about finding ways to work smarter.
As with any task, it starts with asking the right questions.
For instance, do the things on your Task List have real meaning to you or at least have enough benefit to make them worth your time and energy?
Are you filling up the day with less important tasks just to avoid dealing with the more difficult ones that you feel intimidated by or just hate doing?
Are you only doing things on your Task List that make you feel good?
By the way, that isn’t a bad thing. Having things on our Task List that make us feel better about ourselves can be healthy.
Doing things like learning new skills, tasks that allow ourselves to achieve milestones we can be proud of, and things we just flat out love to do, can all be good for the mind and soul.
But, if the things that are taking you off task happen to be less goal-oriented, like avoiding exercise or being a professional couch potato, be honest about it.
Own Your Day
In a Forbes article written by Jennifer Cohen on the topic of being busy versus productive, she says “The most productive and efficient people are those that “own their day” versus letting their day own them. They work to maximize their time to be as productive as possible, not just busy”.
She used an example of where a busy person would write a note to follow up with someone when a productive person would have already acted by calling them and getting it done right then and there.
Seems a little intimidating, doesn’t it? Like some kind of Task Superhero.
Getting Real About a Plan
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s the good news!
You don’t have to be going a zillion miles per hour every minute of the day to be productive.
For all you low-energy people, there’s hope! You can be productive at a slower pace just as much as you can at a pace like your pants are on fire.
The secret is understanding what your true goal is and being realistic about how you’ll achieve it.
The old adage about “how do you eat an elephant?” rings true. You can achieve anything as long as you work at it one bite at a time.
So, let’s tackle that big ole elephant right now!
Steps to an Achievable Goal
Step One - Get very clear on what it is you want to achieve, then be just as realistic about the time, energy, and attention that effort will require.
This means you have to be honest with yourself about the realities and skillsets you have in time management, discipline, and organization.
If you know you are working toward a goal timeline that you can’t reach because of work or family commitments, you're leaving on an extended vacation for 2 months (don't we all wish?) or other time constraints, reset your expectations to accommodate those factors.
Step Two – Focus on one task at a time.
For people like me who tend to multi-task, this is a toughie, but it’s critical to the success of your mission to do it. I know it works because it’s advice I gave my senior clients for years who were tackling a downsizing move.
When they focused on one smaller area and completed the project before moving on to the next task, they felt good about their accomplishment and it gave them confidence and inspiration to continue the quest.
Step Three – Master your calendar.
Trying to do tasks without scheduling, and sticking to that schedule, only promotes frustration and self-recrimination. We’d like to avoid that, right? So let’s take those tasks you’ve worked so hard to break down from step one and figure out a day and time that you can give them 100% of your attention without distractions.
You’ll be amazed about how much you can get accomplished when you carve out blocks of dedicated time. This means no phone calls, no answering emails, checking your social media posts, or other typical daily distractions until the task is completed.
Some experts in time management suggest writing down everything you do over a 1-2 day period of time to get a better idea of the type of activities you are spending most of your time working (or wasting time) on. I’ve done this exercise and it is an eye-opener, so I encourage you to try it!
Step Four – Think smaller.
In the process of thinking bigger in terms of what you want to achieve in life, you may need to think smaller when it comes to managing tasks to get there.
Creating smaller tasks may seem like it’ll take longer for you to complete your goal, but it will actually help you complete it faster.
I’ll give you an example.
Back when I started my first business I had a line item on my Task List to create a website. Each day, that line item got pushed forward. Why? Well, first, I didn’t even know where to start the process and second, it was too large a task to do in one day or even a week.
By not setting realistic expectations, I had set myself up for failure. It was only when I broke the process down into smaller steps that I could eventually complete the main task.
The Biggest Block to Being Productive
So, I’ll close with reemphasizing one of the most consistent factors that keep people in the “busy” mode instead of being productive is distractions.
Being able to control those distractions will allow you to get a lot more done, in less time and with less frustration.
I know you can do it! Show yourself that you have the mindset and the will to make that task list a success story!
So, in the meantime, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!