There is so much coming at us on a daily basis we have meetings to attend, emails that never stop coming, notifications popping up on our smartphones from one app or another, not to mention all the activities we or our children are involved in. To say we have demanding schedules is an understatement. We have overwhelming schedules. And living in a constant state of overwhelm is terrible for our productivity and especially our health.
You might be thinking to yourself, with all that I have on my plate to do I am very productive. You may very well be. However many people mistake being busy for being productive.
What’s the difference?
Busy is doing activities that utilize your time but aren’t necessarily moving you towards the attainment of your overarching goals. Productivity or being productive is completing activities that are in alignment with your goals and priorities.
An executive of a non-profit organization that developed a highly successful program is in jeopardy of losing funding necessary to keep the program operational. The executive’s priority is to find funding to sustain the program.
Example of Busy:
The executive receives hundreds of emails on a daily basis and constantly has people wanting appointments to discuss various topics. It drives the executive crazy to have so many email piling up and is compassionate towards those vying for their time. So the executive spends the majority of each work day reading and responding to emails with the intention of getting to inbox zero so that they can focus on finding a new source of funding. There is a parade of people coming in and out of their office without an appointment. Before they know it the day is over so the executive heads home and continues to work on clearing the emails in an attempt to start the next day at inbox zero. This will allow them to focus on researching funding opportunities. Only the executive ends up repeating the pattern day after day and rarely has time to focus on the priority project of finding funding opportunities.
Example of Productive:
The same executive realizes that they are burnt out from working after hours consistently and isn’t any further along from finding new funding with the deadline quickly approaching. They decide to make some changes to their schedule in order to meet the deadline. What the executive does is create a list of all the actions that need to be taken to obtain additional funding. They take those actions and load them into a task manager and assigns due dates to each one. They then block out 2 hours each morning to work solely on that project. They inform the staff that they are not to be disturbed during that time but will check in with everyone right after. When the time block comes the executive puts their phone on do not disturb, closes out email closes their office door and works distraction free only on the action item with the most current due date. When the time block is over, they resume normal business operations. They also unsubscribe from junk emails, set up an email follow up system ad immediately delete or file emails that require no action on their part.
As you can see from our case study, there is a major difference between being busy and being productive. All of us have a level of busyness in our lives. The idea is to minimize that so you can be more focused on the things you’ve identified as priorities.
Here are some tips for being more priority focused with your time.
- Evaluate how you’re currently spending your time. Chances are you’ve made “busy work” a priority without realizing it. It may be checking social media (did you know the average person unlocks their phone 180 times per day), watching TV, binging on a Netflix TV series or just sleeping. Whatever it is identify it then decide if you want to devote that much time to that particular activity.
- Identify your true priorities and put them on your schedule first. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing a book, exercise, working a side hustle or spending more time with family. What matters is that it gets on your schedule before anything else.
- Guard your priority project time blocks. View this time as sacred and refuse to skip it unless it’s a true emergency. Even then you should reschedule it for another time.
- Set yourself up for success. Determine in advance what specific actions you will take during your time blocks. This will help prevent wasting time on deciding what to do and also not having the tools and resources necessary to complete the identified task. Include what items or tools you’ll need so you can gather them together before you get started.
- Learn how to say no. When people come to you with good ideas or projects that don’t align with your priorities it is important that you’re able to respectfully decline. If you don’t you’ll end up with a bunch of other people’s priorities on your schedule with little time for your own. Say no to others so you can say yes to yourself.
Building your schedule based on priorities first will enable you to be less busy and more productive.
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